The whole point of this museum is to stimulate the imagination . . . to open eyes to the possibilities of creating art.”
Founder, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art
In 2013, George Lucas received the National Medal of Arts, our nation’s highest artistic achievement, with a citation that read: “For contributions to American cinema. By combining the art of storytelling with boundless imagination and cutting-edge techniques, Mr. Lucas has transported us to new worlds and created some of the most beloved and iconic films of all time.”
In 2004, Lucas and the company he founded, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), earned the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, our nation’s highest honor for technological achievement. No other individual has been awarded both these honors.
George Lucas began making experimental films as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. His 1971 award-winning student film THX-1138 was released as a feature with his long-time friend Francis Ford Coppola serving as executive producer. Next, Coppola challenged Lucas to make a comedy, which led him to co-write and direct American Graffiti. This low-budget movie expanded the boundaries of storytelling and became the first film to interweave unrelated multiple story lines backed by a soundtrack of contemporary music. The audience response was massive. American Graffiti became the most profitable movie of its time and was nominated for five Academy awards. It won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Film and racked up best screenplay awards from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.
For his next film, Lucas wanted to make a space opera for young people featuring, as he puts it, “a guy who flies around with a giant dog.” Star Wars set new standards for visual effects and sound. It broke all box office records and garnered eight Academy Awards. As Steven Spielberg declared at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony for Lucas, “Star Wars absolutely changed movies forever.”
The success of Star Wars allowed Lucas to remain independent of Hollywood and operate Lucasfilm and ILM out of Marin County, California. To tell the stories he imagined, Lucas needed new tools and pioneered the development of digital film editing, digital cinematography, digital projection and computer generated imagery (CGI). In turn, his creative vision—and the revolutionary techniques invented to realize that vision—transformed the movies. Today, these techniques are the standard in film and television.
ILM created the first computer-generated character in a live-action movie for 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes. They also helped create the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the fantasy worlds of Harry Potter, the marauding pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean, the strange new worlds in the Star Trek reboot and the high tech armor of the Iron Man films. Together, Lucasfilm, ILM and Skywalker Sound have been nominated for more than 100 Academy Awards and taken home more than 40 Oscars and special achievement awards.
In 1991, Lucas was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Award which is presented periodically to “Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” He has also received The American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
After a 15-year hiatus to raise his three children, Lucas returned to directing with the first of three new episodes of the Star Wars saga. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was 1999’s biggest box office hit and the first movie to be projected digitally. Three years later, Attack of the Clones broke new ground as the first major movie to be photographed using entirely digital media.
Lucas has also served as executive producer on such varied films as Ron Howard’s Willow, Akira Kurasawa’s Kagemusha, Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, among many others. In 2012, Lucas executive produced Red Tails, a fictional story inspired by America’s first all-black aerial combat unit. This work was recognized by the NAACP, who presented Lucas with its Vanguard Award for increasing understanding and awareness of racial and social issues.
Lucas’s belief in the power of an image to capture our humanity and convey emotion is at the heart of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Growing up in Modesto, California, Lucas devoured the popular art available to him on magazine covers, in comic books and at the movies. Adventure novels illustrated by N.C. Wyeth transported Lucas into fantastical worlds, proving that a single image could be a doorway into an entire universe. Later, Lucas made his own mark in the adventure genre with the creation of archaeologist Indiana Jones. The American Film Institute ranked “Indy” as the second greatest film hero of all time.
“The whole point of this museum is to stimulate the imagination,” Lucas says. “To open eyes to the possibilities of creating art.”
Along with inspiration, Lucas believes in the importance of instruction. He has been an ardent advocate for education at all levels. For 25 years, he has been chairman of the George Lucas Education Foundation, which provides materials and strategies to innovate in classrooms from kindergarten through high school. The Foundation’s “Edutopia” online community logs millions of visitors each month and has become an invaluable source of information for teachers, parents, administrators and students. Recently, Edutopia added a research division that conducts and funds rigorous studies to design, test and identify the most successful teaching practices.
In higher education, Lucas spearheaded a 2006 major expansion of the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. A 1967 graduate, Lucas became the single largest donor in USC history with his gift of $175 million. He also helped conceive and design the new 200,000-square foot, six-building campus. Today, these state-of-the-art facilities serve 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students. Lucas also established a generous fund that offers financial support to diverse students. In The Hollywood Reporter’s 2015 rating of the top film schools in the United States, USC ranked #1.
In 1990, Lucas joined Coppola, Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick as founding members of The Film Foundation, whose mission is to preserve, restore and present films. Since then, The Film Foundation has saved more than 600 films. It also has an educational arm, which will collaborate with the Museum to teach young people about film language and history.
In 2005, Lucas met Chicago-native Mellody Hobson. They married seven years later and have a daughter. Together, Lucas and Hobson have supported many local institutions including the construction of the Gordon Parks Arts Hall at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Named after the famed Chicago photographer and filmmaker, the Hall opened in 2015 and includes three auditoriums, four art studios, a digital media and photography lab, rehearsal spaces, practice rooms and scenery and costume shops.
Lucas’s life-long interest in education and love of storytelling provided the catalyst for this museum. While other museums have been founded by single collectors, Lucas is a rare founder who is also a creative artist/maker with a deep understanding of the power of the popular arts.