The Geek Life: Visits Industrial Light and Magic -

The Geek Life: Visits Industrial Light and Magic

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The Geek Life: Visits Industrial Light and Magic

And slays an Alien too

By Robert T. Trate     August 22, 2012

The Yoda Fountain in San Francisco
© Lucasfilm/ Disney
The Geek Life is a weekly look at what is going on in the Geek Culture. Movies, Comics, Books, Video Games, and TV Shows encompass more than just release dates and reviews. This week the Geek Life visits ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). 
When I was a little kid, playing with my Star Wars figures, I was probably at my happiest. To this day, I still walk the toy aisles looking for that next figure. I loved Star Wars and it encompassed everything in my life. My parents never had much money so when a new figure showed up it was a great treat. Thankfully, I had two Grandmas who worked the buying of figures into a mail away plethora of Bosks, Boba Fetts, and Emperors. Star Wars was everywhere and it was glorious. 
As I got older and Star Wars movies started to become a thing of the past, I read all I could on their production, Expanded Universe stories, and other movies by the cast and crew. From there, my love of movies began. My father, with his profound fondness for John Ford, John Wayne, and James Bond probably helped, too. He didn’t know it at the time, but he inadvertently put me on the path to where am I know (though he wanted me to be a lawyer). I wanted to work in pictures. At film school, I found out that many people didn’t like Star Wars. The resurgence with the “Special Edition” had turned a lot of people off to the movies. Thankfully, I had a professor who always defended the then holy trilogy and said “I reference it because it’s the one movie I know you have all seen”. He was right, because any time he spoke about structure and the three act formula, everyone understood. 
In my five years here at Mania, I have gotten to write a lot about Star Wars. Whether it be about the Blu-ray releases, interviewing the cast and crew of Star Wars The Clone Wars, or just writing about the Star Wars toys, it’s great when your passion becomes a part of your work. The further you get in journalism, the more doors it can open up for you. When the subject is also something you love to write or talk about, it can create incredible expectations. Out of all the things I thought Mania would allow me to do, visiting Industrial Light and Magic was never one of them. The Star Wars movies were finished and The Clone Wars wasn’t even announced when I started in 2007. However, there I was a few months ago flying to San Francisco with a pass to ILM.

The reasons why are obvious. All you have to do is watch the YouTube clip below. Despite that, I took the opportunity and it was one of the best days of my life. The production facilities of ILM are no longer just located at the Skywalker Ranch. George Lucas spread the production studios to the Presidio in San Francisco. If you are asking where the Presidio is, just imagine every shot of Star Fleet Command from Star Trek and you’ve nailed the location. Picturesque and beautiful, ILM in San Francisco is an amazing place.

The Yoda Fountain, located directly outside the main doors, perfectly sets the mood. If you are lucky enough, you’ll remember why you fell in love with Star Wars to begin with right there. ILM has a day care facility (yes, they have their own Younglings) and, more than once, I saw children talking to Yoda. Go through the white doors behind Yoda and you are almost there. However, that is far as you can go into ILM without a pass. Today, I had a pass. 

I was given a brief run down of the day’s events. As I walked the halls all I heard was the opening to “Lando’s Palace” from The Empires Strikes Back. I kept catching myself humming it out loud and prayed no one else heard me. Each of the walls on the upper levels were decorated with giant movie posters from Europe. I knew that because the films were recognizable, yet each had the title in a different language. Next, I saw a statue of Ray Harryhausen in the next lobby and knew that George truly does love movies as much as he loves cars. 

The lower levels were an assortment of posters ILM has worked on, concept art, matte paintings, props, and high school type photos of different production teams. With each stop of the elevator, I wondered which level would be populated with Jabba’s crew and how many Jawas were working overtime. 

When I got to the production studio, I was shocked how simple it was. A couple of green screens and a few props and I was off filming. Now, I know that this is just a simple promo reel to promote Battleship. I have little to no aspirations of acting in a big Hollywood picture. Nor did I think, “Cool, I’ll pop this into my demo reel”. What I did relish in was that some of my friends who are actors and journalists have never gotten here. I let that sink in just a little bit and enjoyed watching the other journalists film their scenes, too. I have run into several of them since and we all have that camaraderie of having been to that place.

For that little boy who played with Star Wars figures to the journalist who actually got to shoot at ILM, there was only one thing left to do in San Francisco. I had to hit the store. Now, in case you didn’t realize, ILM has a store in all their production houses. The wares sold here are the unobtainable for a Star Wars collector like myself. I don’t mean I could pick up an original Blue Snaggletooth or Yak Face here. Rather, it is where you get the ILM T-shits, production jackets, ball caps, and the like. It might be strange to someone who doesn’t fully comprehend living the Geek Life, but this was a dream come true.  I spent more than I should have, but an opportunity like this may never come again... perhaps I’ll trust in the Force and believe that I’ll go there one more time. 


Robert Trate writes three columns for Mania: the DVD Shopping Bag, the Toy Maniac, and The Geek Life. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos, and film criticisms.


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RedHood2010 8/22/2012 4:55:28 AM

That sounded like an AWESOME time.  Congrats to you on this opportunity!  Thanks for sharing!

jedibanner 8/22/2012 5:42:03 AM


You are one lucky guy my friend.

It's one of those things that must be remembered for all your life. Hope you have lots of pictures.

Wiseguy 8/22/2012 7:31:01 AM

LOL Bob that was great. Like a kid in a candy store. Wish thery had let you film something with Star Wars though.

monkeyfoot 8/22/2012 8:21:30 AM

That is supremely FANTASTIC!!! Congratulations and thank you for sharing this experience!!!

The closest I've gotten to ILM Nirvana was that somebody I know who worked on the FX for a commercial there. It was just when Episode 1 was about to come out. I don't think they had a gift store at the time but they allowed people who worked there to get special items by mail order. Knowing what a fan I was he let me pick out an exclusive ILM shirt for The Phantom Menace. I hardly ever wear it 'cuz I don't want it damaged.

Davewriter 8/22/2012 12:49:05 PM

A girlfriend was working on a film that needed to do some pickup shots.  Everyone was set and ready, but Bruce Willis had been delayed, so my girlfriend got a bit of a tour while waiting.

She's not a geek, but even she went a little nuts when she got to see (and touch) Han Solo frozen... an X-wing... the Lost Arc...

Kool Stuff!

The closest I've ever come was when going through Bob & Kathy Burns collection.

Just Geek Heaven!


noahbody 8/22/2012 1:45:21 PM

So jealous....

redhairs99 8/23/2012 9:20:25 AM

 Great job, Bob!



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