Tapping the Force: The Art of Making Star Wars Illuminates STEAM Careers

As a former educator-turned-STEM philanthropist, I have long wished to join the conversation about supporting art alongside science, technology, engineering, and math education. In my mind,provides the perfect catalyst.
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"May the force be with you" is the renowned salute intoned in the 20th century by a Jedi Master on May 25, 1977, when George Lucas first gathered us into his mythological realm in the Galaxy Far-Far-Away. For Star Wars fans all over the world, the phrase has special meanings - and it has personal significance for me as I push "send" to buy advanced tickets to take my grandson to see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which debuts in the 21st century this winter.

As a former educator-turned-STEM philanthropist for the Broadcom Foundation, I have long wished to join the conversation about supporting art alongside science, technology, engineering, and math education. In my mind, Star Wars Episode VII provides the perfect catalyst for math, science and art teachers to pull out a copy of The Jedi Path and use Lucas' iconic space opera to inspire younglings everywhere to perfect their science, technology, engineering, math and art (STEAM) skills to prepare themselves for exciting, multi-faceted careers that await them, and which cut across the entire STEAM landscape of the 21st century.

As the finishing touches were being applied to the latest interstellar installment, thirty Broadcom MASTERS finalists -- Broadcom's own younglings -- got a firsthand look at how much STEAM goes into creating Star Wars at Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco. The astounding choreography -- symphonic music, light sabers, star fighters, droids, land speeders, planets with double moons, the revival Millennium Falcon and fantastic cityscapes populated with beings with whose countenances and costumes dazzle our imaginations -- requires thousands of visionary scientists, savvy technicians, engineers of all stripes, artists, fabricators, musicians and math/computer wiz kids putting their heads together to envision, collaborate, design, build, direct and produce Lucas' interstellar extravaganza.

Star Wars (S)cience consultants include experts in astronomy, physics, prosthetics, solar power, laser technology, rocketry and missile systems, force fields, cloning, genetic engineering, cybernetics, levitation, carbon freezing, holography and artificial intelligence.

Hundreds of (T)echnicians create props and manipulate mechanical devices to help the director make Star Wars so realistic and exciting that we come away believing we have lived among the Jedi.

The array of (E)ngineering professionals working at Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) dispels the stigma that engineering is a subject only for nerds. Star Wars is brought to life by groundbreaking engineering professionals trained in computer imaging, electrical, software, mechanical, materials, fabrication, electrical, lighting, acoustic and sound, broadcast and special effects -- and, given Star Wars' over-the-top modes of transportation, automotive and aeronautic engineering.

And then there is the all-powerful (M)athematics, the foundational subject upon which the other disciplines are built. Math is grossly undervalued when students who fantasize about being a part of the entertainment world -- whether to create and direct a blockbuster like Star Wars or design computer games that draw upon the heroics introduced in the movies.

Math and coding are the force that is with moviemaking today. Digital effects on mega-computers with proprietary programs used in Star Wars have their early genesis in early space-age initiatives at NASA. For every four-to-eight minute long action sequence on screen, it takes up to 50 artists some six months to complete the effects.

While technical training for costume designers begins with traditional sewing skills, costume designers in movies today must be able to design and present their concepts on CAD to co-workers, directors and production managers and use computer technology to do extensive research on clothing from different eras.

Engineers create light and sound through movie magic; motion capture is used where actors, props and the stage are outfitted with sensors that apply mathematical algorithms to translate movement to computer programmed animation. This movie magic requires math, electronic engineering, and physics to bring actors and art to life on the big screen.

And then there is the creative artistry that captures the public's attention before, during and after the red carpet is rolled out for Star Wars. The talented people who redefine long-form storytelling through cartoons and comic books are ancillary scientists, artisans and technicians who will help complete the archetypal embedding that has made Stars Wars iconic. And there is advertising, marketing, and communications that require additional STEAM talent, as evidenced at the exhibit of the "Chrometrooper" and the planet-dashing vehicle that I captured on my iPhone 6 in the in the Oakland Airport this week.

Because Star Wars: Episode VII was filmed in the United Kingdom, I am offering up a website from the UK about the incredible array of jobs in film and entertainment that requires STEAM skills. Teachers can encourage their students to take a quiz on Whose Crew Are You? They might encourage their class to see Star Wars and deconstruct it to identify the countless STEAM careers needed to make it. It will inspire students to explore a galaxy full of 21st-century jobs that await them if they continue their studies in science, technology, engineering, math, and art. With a little help from the force, we can get kids to realize that their passion for art as well as other STEM subjects will open career pathways to the stars where they can imagine, create and design tomorrow's real intergalactic world.

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