George Lucas’s Student Film Changed The Game

George Lucas’s Student Film Changed The Game

All filmmakers (even the most influential)
have to start somewhere, and that includes George Lucas. It’s hard to put into words
just how important the Star Wars creator’s contributions have been to the motion picture
industry. From Indiana Jones to Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas has been behind not
only the movie business’s biggest franchises, but also its biggest technological innovations. George Lucas led the transition from celluloid
to digital, paving the way for modern CGI, and his astute business strategies in merchandising
showed the world how movies could make not just millions in the box office, but billions
at the toy store. He’s not without his critics, of course.
He’s been crowned the King of Wooden Dialogue, and his constant tinkering with the original
Star Wars trilogy over the years has won him plenty of detractors, but whether you love
or hate his work, there’s no denying that movies wouldn’t be the same without the
career of George Lucas… but before he became one of the most successful filmmakers to ever
live, he was a 21-year-old student at the University of Southern California. [music] The way Lucas tells it, he was really never
that interested in movies growing up. At 12-years-old, he fell in love with cars, and chose to spend
his time in high school tinkering under the hood… even racing underground circuits at
the nearby fairgrounds. His obsession with race cars was to the detriment of schoolwork,
and Lucas’s father (who owned a stationary store in town) was keen on reining him in
by dragging him – kicking and screaming, if need be – into the family business. A week before high school graduation, George
Lucas was in a terrible car accident. Driving home from the library in his street-legal
race car, Lucas was broadsided while trying to make a left-hand turn. His car flipped
several times and wrapped itself around a tree… the kind of accident that usually
results in a fatality. As it happened, George’s seat belt broke, and he was ejected from the
vehicle – likely saving his life. The accident resulted in major injuries. His lungs were
crushed. He had severe hemorrhaging. His heart had stopped when paramedics found him. After being rushed to the hospital, doctors
managed to bring him back. Once awake, George had plenty of time to lay
in a hospital bed and think about his life’s direction. Soon, he decided to give up racing
and pursue other interests. After graduation, he enrolled in Modesto Jr.
College and studied social science, majoring in anthropology, but his heart was in illustration
(much to the chagrin of his father). Around that time, he snagged an 8mm camera,
and began shooting car races for fun, and soon began tinkering with home movies. His best friend at the time was planning on
attending USC to major in business, and he asked George to tag along as he drove up to
the entrance exam. Once there, on a whim, George decided to take the exam too – and
much to his surprise, passed. Unsure of what to select as a major, his friend
suggested cinematography, as George seemed to be enjoying experimenting with 8mm. Lucas agreed and was soon enrolled in USC’s
School of Cinematic Arts, one of the earliest schools in America devoted to teaching the
art of motion picture production. There, Lucas was given unprecedented access to the greatest
films ever made, and soon fell in love with the medium. The year was 1965. Lucas’s first semester consisted of both
a Film History class and a class on Animation. While Film History taught him of the moviemakers
who had come before him, Animation class was his first real opportunity to create his OWN
original works. His first assignment was simple: Lucas was
given a 1 minute roll of film, and with it, was required to capture a number of basic
camera movements listed on a worksheet. It’s a fairly straightforward exercise meant only
to get students familiar with the animation camera, teaching them how to operate the equipment:
check focus, perform pans, tilts, zooms (the kind of thing they teach high schoolers in
TV/Video classes these days). While the other students took the assignment
and went through the motions, George Lucas decided to go the second mile and used HIS
roll of film not just to perform the required operations of the camera, but to simultaneously
tell a story. What resulted was George Lucas’s first real movie – a one minute short film entitled “Look at Life.” [music] [fast-paced drums] [minister shouting Bible verses] The movie was a sensation at USC – unlike
anything ever produced by students before. The film department entered it into dozens
of festivals all over the world, and it won countless awards. Based on this first success, George Lucas
was then certain: he was meant to make movies. This short is, in many ways, I believe, a
microcosm of his later techniques and overall approach to the motion pictures that would
define his career. It showcases three qualities that characterize
much of what makes Lucas such a successful artist. First, it demonstrates Lucas’s forward-thinking
when it comes to animation. While “Look at Life” seems rather run-of-the-mill
these days, it’s important to remember that (for the time) this was a giant leap forward
for student filmmaking. This was made in 1965, decades before non-linear
and digital editing systems. Every camera movement, every zoom, every crossfade had
to be done meticulously by hand! Yet, each shot is fluid and the movie’s animation
is clean and cohesive. For this first-time assignment, Lucas pulled out all the stops,
splicing eye-catching imagery and even interweaving title cards: all the technological tricks
available in the classroom at the time. Obviously, as the years progressed, and his
potential toolbox expanded, George Lucas remained true to this approach and stayed at the forefront
of what was possible in Motion Picture animation. The original Star Wars trilogy is a masterclass
in the techniques of the time: stop motion, chroma key, rotoscoping, and more! And, the
prequel trilogy pushed the movie business’s limits even further with computer generated
environments, characters, and things like motion tracking, photorealistic rendering,
and integrating live action and animated elements within the frame are now the standard for
blockbusters. Lucas always tested the upper limits of the technology he had available
to him. See, he didn’t just make movies to turn
a profit. He used them as opportunities to experiment with new technology and push the
medium further, often going into debt and taking severe financial risks in the hopes
that these experiments would be a success. Even as a student, Lucas went above and beyond
what was expected of the times. Secondly, Lucas supplemented the movie’s
visuals with a provocative and breathtaking soundtrack. What separated “Look at Life”
from every other student’s work was the music, which hits you right out of the gate.
Rather than turning in a 1-minute silent reel of camera tests, Lucas decided to incorporate
a score – something that had never been done before at USC. Again, these days it seems as simple as just
dropping a music file onto a timeline, but in 1965, Lucas had to do this by hand… and
he didn’t just hard cut a random song into a finished movie! Each cut is timed perfectly
with the beat of the music, AND he even mixes vocals over the soundtrack at the film’s
conclusion. Not only did he raise the bar by including
music in his project, he took it a step further by layering sound from multiple audio sources.
This meant meticulous planning to properly sync all the required elements. And when you look at George Lucas’s later
works, there’s no denying that he understands the key role music plays in taking movies
to the next level. John Williams’s breathtaking score in the Star Wars films is iconic, and
without it, those movies wouldn’t pack nearly the emotional punch that they do. Even Indiana
Jones is full of romp and action with just as memorable a soundtrack. Even when starting out, Lucas took advantage
of music. Thirdly and finally, Look at Life shows us
that above everything else, George Lucas cares about story. While his peers looked at that
class assignment and saw only a list of mundane exercises to run though and get a passing
grade, Lucas looked at his homework as an opportunity to do something more. He went
beyond what was expected and melded the assignment into a thought-provoking narrative that would
strike a chord with the youth culture of the 1960s. He had a target audience in mind, and
made a movie that would resonate with them. With this first film, Lucas made it clear:
he wasn’t in film school to learn how to be a camera-pusher on a Hollywood lot. He
was going to tell his own stories, his own way. A short time later, Lucas would co-found the
studio American Zoetrope with Francis Ford Coppola, and eventually Lucasfilm Ltd. The
rest, as they, is history. What can George Lucas’s first film teach
the modern-day aspiring filmmaker? Mostly, it teaches up-and-coming artists (whether
students, or otherwise) to go beyond what is expected, and to use even what appears
on the surface to be a boring and banal job or assignment as a proving ground for something
greater. If you’re in school, and your professor
gives you a simple assignment like, say, a 60-second camera test… ask yourself: what
can you do to make YOUR project stand out from everyone else’s? If you’re a freelance videographer or artist
and you’ve been hired to make a 30-second commercial for a local business, or produce
a banner for a local community event, how can you stretch your creativity to its absolute
limit and produce a final product that will not only wow the client, but future potential
employers? If YOU were George Lucas’s classmate in
1965, what kind of film would YOU have made? Most importantly… what will you make today? Maybe you’re an up-and-coming or aspiring
artist, and you’re looking for a way to learn more about a particular craft, but the
thought of long-term commitment (or shelling out a small fortune for something like film
school or an art institute) is totally out of the picture. This video’s sponsor, Skillshare, can help
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Only registered users can comment.

  1. What will I make today?

    Thank you Austin. I've been searching for a spark to be unique for a while now but recently began stopping that search in favor of college, work, and a hopeful, but not likely, search for freelance work. It may be you talking about George Lucas, but I feel as if you're truly reaching out to all of your viewers with that message of "What will you make today?"

    I intend to make something that's been bouncing around my head for a while. Thanks for asking.

  2. People spend their entire lives doing art and never achieve the same level of success.
    And this guy just randomly walks into a film class, discovers his inner talent and becomes a billionaire!

  3. Crazy how immediately he found his style, literally a minute exercise and you can see parallels to the rest of his career

  4. on the subject of star wars…

    there's only one character that said

    "MEesA caLLEd JAr JaR BinKS"
    Jar Jar Binks May 16th, 1999-1999

  5. At first I thought "Well I could make that in an hour" but five minutes later I have accept GL as the founder of my hobby.

  6. Sometimes, I forget the greats came from nothing.

    As someone who's passion comes from filmmaking. It came from such a young age, and I'm always afraid of not being able to truly show my true passion. To tell my own stories.

    Thank you Austin, for reminding me that I can tell my own stories.

  7. I read the title of the video and thought you would just talk about Thx1138, like every Youtuber has done before, but I still clicked on it. That's something that I actually didn't knew about.. I'm impressed Austin. You never fail to deliver..

  8. Holy crap Austin! I was just wondering about this this morning! I watched an interview with Alex Guinness talking about how Lucas was an "up and coming director" at the time so I was wondering why that was so. Thank you man!

  9. You forgot to mention that time he made his dream-softcore porno in the form of chlostrophobia inducing and incomprehensible sci-fi that turns people into robots in a dystopian underground city

  10. “His astute business strategy in merchandising”
    Fun fact he actually made a terrible deal with the toy merchandising and lost millions as a result.
    “The toys that made us” episode on Star Wars was really interesting

  11. I love this. George Lucas has always been an inspiration for me especially as I’m preparing to go off to film school and while he has a lot of flaws he’s extremely underrated as a filmmaker. He’s extremely competent and this video cements that in my mind.

    Edit: Austin not only highlighted my comment but also made my day. Huge fan of you as well Austin. Thanks ✌🏻

  12. I expected to see the short film that became THX 1138 but I'd never seen this short film, and I'm glad I did. It's a really powerful film, surprisingly. Thank you for sharing this!

  13. Holy shit! I was just watching a bunch of videos about Lucas' early work, and one of my favorite channels posts this. What is this sorcery?

  14. The technology is my favorite part of his, the progressiveness is great. I love CGI and the special effects revolutionalized the entire film industry.

  15. I love your content Austin, the videos you make have such a solid and quality feel to them, keep making videos about stuff that I didn't know I'd love

  16. My pilot is only a few days away from finishing. It's about a fox from another world meets an earthling fox who go on sci-fi space adventures together.

  17. With George’s background in street racing American Graffiti suddenly makes a ton of sense for him to make. Also I miss Really Weird Star Wars, please do more of those someday.

  18. Going above and beyond for a skillshare sponsor, just like Lucas would have done. I see what you did there, tied it all together. Nicely done!

  19. Very interesting. I did something similar. I believe in going the extra mile. When I was first learning photoshop at school, there was an assignment to match text and images for 10 images. Simplest assignment ever. I ended up doing multiple composites for each image, just because I thought it would make it better. Makes me smile to know one of my idols thought in a similarl way.

  20. During a failed attempt at college the instructor for a photography class gave the assignment that they were to photograph the existence or presence of someone without having anyone in the photo.
    Well one wit turned in a photo of a toilet that contained the proof someone had been there.

  21. This is a wonderful video.

    I’ve a lot of respect and admiration for George Lucas and what he’s done, so this wasn’t just informative, but a real pleasure to watch.

    Thank you for this.

  22. ”The secret is not to give up hope. It’s very hard not to because if youre really doing something worthwhile i think you will be pushed to the brink of hopelessness before you come through the other side” – George Lucas

  23. My First thought when I saw this… the video is 9 seconds too long. 😉 Took a moment to realise this wasn't about THX, but his very first film (which I'd never actually seen, so thanks!).

  24. Though i feel that this piece is interesting and has some good points. what i really think have made the difference for George Lucas and his first film as a stand out (and his approach in general), was his interest in the possibilities of the medium. I don't think that he set out with a mission to try to push the boundaries of the medium, but that he, because of his knowledge of, and interest in the medium, had a vision for what to do, and therefore he pushed the boundaries. not because he wanted to push it but rather because he couldn't help explore the medium.
    That being said, i enjoy your videos. keep em coming (please) 🙂

  25. The recommended video is "THIS IS WHERE GEORGE SLEPT" and I got very confused and concerned about your well-being

  26. I know many people like to attack Mr. Lucas, but if you've looked at his career, with shows like Willow, Captain EO, and Radioland Murders, you'd realize that his brand of humor has always been there. Even Isaac Asimov (yes, THAT Isaac Asimov) noticed this when he made an article for World Book Encyclopedia for the 1980 issue (don't know the exact title of the article, but I think it's called "Call it SF, Science Fiction, or Sci-Fi- It's Big!"). One big difference between him and other shlock writers is that he had the budget to pull it off, making a show like Star Wars come off as epic instead of corny. Remember, he was inspired by low-budget serials.

  27. Yeah, no. Every time I've gone above and beyond, or tried to do something really special or clever it has come back to bite me big time. Aim for a B every time. If you slip you'll still pass and if you get lucky you'll get an A but if you aim for greatness you'll get cut to the ground.

  28. It’s wild how detached I have to become with my current reality to be able to appreciate the effort that George put in his first film. It’s so easy to take everything for granted when in this current landscape, I could re-create “Look at Life” in less than 20 minutes.

  29. I was just watching Star Wars when you released this.
    PS: George didn’t just tinker with the OT, but he did tinker a tiny bit with the prequels. You should research it.

  30. This video is great, why does it have such few views? Seems like YT has pre-decided that anything filmography related you make must be boring.

  31. I'm actually attending Modesto Junior College next year. I'm majoring in Theatre Arts, but I'm also into film making.

    Story goes, when Lucas was at MJC, he came to his film appreciation professor and introduced the idea of the Star Wars trilogy, and asked if they could invest/help. The professor denied and thought it was a stupid idea, and that was that. Word goes, the professor still teaches at MJC, and obviously regrets the decision.

    Again, I could be wrong about this, it's just a story around here, but idk.

  32. When did the phrase change from “the rest is history” to “the rest, as they say, is history”? It seems everybody inserts the “as they say”, like they’re trying to use a cliche saying without being cliche by acknowledging that it’s cliche.

  33. Great video Austin.

    Bit random but just wondered if you knew. A major phone company in the UK, Vodafone (don't know if it's in the US) has been using you and your channel for their advertising a little while ago.

  34. 8:41 I was with you until #3. Storytelling? Caring about story? I guess you could call it that. Maybe he does, but he's not very good at it. I think the original SW trilogy succeeded because others cared about the story more than he did.

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