Here you’ll find a collection of old features pertaining to various articles to do with the movies, in front & Behind-the-Scenes at SW.Com
Animatics: The Moving Storyboards of Episode I – Part 1
After directing Star Wars (Episode IV) in 1976, George Lucas stepped away from the director’s role for subsequent films. For Episode I, Lucas returns to the director’s chair for the first time in 21 years.
Lucas is able to craft his vision of this story and its new characters with greater creative control than ever before, thanks to some of the technological innovations that have broadened his storyteller’s toolkit. Animatics are one such tool, and they are being used extensively to fine-tune every shot of Episode I to match the story in Lucas’ imagination.
Part One of a Two-Part Series
In the editing rooms at Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas and his editing team assemble the footage of Episode I, fine tuning sequences for nuance and dramatic effect. Martin Smith stares at the AVID monitors, re-cutting and revising to achieve exactly the story flow he wants from a dramatic scene. But it can be difficult for Lucas and his editor to judge the effectiveness of some of these scenes, because so many are full of holes.
A scene of two Jedi knights having a dramatic confrontation may be very hard to edit without the cityscape, Tatooine cliffside, or moving spacecraft that are meant to fill the space behind them-the actors may have been filmed standing in front of nothing more than a blue screen. All the missing elements are visual effects to be added later by ILM. But until the scene is cut to best advantage, Lucas cannot be sure which effects must be ordered. This chicken-and-egg problem is being solved for Episode I by the extensive use of animatics, or “sketch” versions of the missing scenes and elements. Animatics are conceptually a kind of storyboard. Traditional storyboards are cartoon-like sketches of movie scenes, meant to guide the creators of a film as a kind of pre-visualization, or blueprint. Changes can be easily made to the sequence and composition of storyboards before expensive filming is undertaken, which makes storyboards a useful tool.
For the editing team at Skywalker Ranch, one way to get around the problem of missing or incomplete scenes is to intercut storyboards which illustrate shots that will later be created as visual effects. These can be helpful, but for a movie filled with motion, storyboards are insufficient place-holders for the editors fine-tuning their scenes. Movement is key: camera movement, spacecraft movement, anything in the scene moving. Storyboards cannot illustrate this vital dimension, but animatics can. Animatics are moving storyboards.
Star Wars: World War II
Animatics: The Moving Storyboards of Episode I – Part 1George Lucas first used moving pictures as storyboards for the Death Star assault sequence in Star Wars.
Lucas cut together 16mm camera plane footage from World War II to develop the flow of the space battle sequence and to communicate to the effects team the speeds and some of the shot compositions he had in mind. The aerial combat between X-wings and TIE fighters was meant to recall historical dogfights of planes like Corsairs and Zeroes.
Animatics: The Moving Storyboards of Episode I – Part 1
This use of “moving storyboards” demonstrated Lucas’ vision that the space combat scenes of Star Wars would show audiences dramatically faster and more dynamic spaceship movement than cinema had ever realized before.
Empire: Hand-Drawn Animatics
George Lucas first had his team generate their own original animatics for the snow battle sequence in The Empire Strikes Back. Hand-drawn sketches were roughly animated to give a sense of how the extraordinary battle scenes would flow, and many of these were later translated into live-action shots. The animatics assisted in the conception of the scene, and, like the WWII footage used in Star Wars, gave Lucas a way to communicate with his effects personnel, to say more precisely, “I want exactly this.”
Visual effects are expensive, and it is not practical to film many variations and let the editor choose from amongst them later, as is often done with live-action photography. Animatics were one solution to making sure the effects artists were only creating what Lucas wanted and what would edit well into the film.
Jedi: Return of the Animatics
For Return of the Jedi, standard storyboards could not effectively convey the action of the famous high-velocity speeder bike chase, and so in order to mock up sequences of this chase, quickly-made models were videotaped and moved on sticks like puppets.
These sequences could be rough-cut together to test how well the scene was flowing, and again served as a guide to the people doing the final effects.
A similar approach was taken with parts of Jedi‘s final space battle, using a mix of simplified models, explosion footage, and hand-drawn artwork.
The rough animatics of Empire and Jedi were helpful but only of limited use, because there were so many ways in which they did not actually match the final footage that would be shot: camera lens types, angles of view, and depth of environment, for example. Also they were not especially flexible media: they could be revised, but not with enough ease to make the work productive.
Special Edition Animatics
For the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition, Lucas brought in computer-generated (CG) animatics, to assist in communicating his ideas for the new sequences, such as those in the Tatooine dunes (covered in more depth in our Anatomy of a Dewback feature). Simple CG animatics using stick figures, electronically composited with other picture elements such as “plate” background shots, also had the virtue of being easily revised to meet the director’s concerns, and Lucas found the technique very promising for future use in Episode I. When Rick McCallum saw the animatics work of David Dozoretz, done for the train chase sequence in Mission: Impossible, he knew he had the right man for the job of leading the animatics work that would need to be done on Episode I.
Episode I: A New Beginning
For Episode I the creative challenges are far more complex than those faced before. Many aspects of the film must be created as visual effects, leaving the rough cut of the film filled with holes, both missing shots and shots in which the actors are filmed with little more than bluescreen, where backgrounds or even important alien characters may be missing from the shot. These incomplete shots prevent the editors from knowing exactly how well the scene is working. And, as before, the visual effects crew still needs to know exactly what Lucas wants.
To fill these gaps and guide both the editors and effects artists, elaborate computer-generated animatics are being created for Episode I, building on the creative traditions stretching back to the very first Star Wars movie. Hundreds of shots-in fact whole sequences-are being created as CG animatics, using three-dimensional modeling programs. Computer compositing is bringing together disparate picture elements, including CG models, filmed stage and location footage, and even flat artwork standing in for elements yet to be realized in 3-D. A small but dedicated team of computer artists is working late hours to build these motion blueprints for the final effects, and they are, in fact, pre-creating a considerable portion of Episode I. Most importantly, David Dozoretz and his animatics team are giving director Lucas a whole new level of creative control over the way his vision is realized on film.
In Part 2, we’ll follow the path a shot can take from storyboard to moving picture.