Welcome to the Ask the Lucasfilm Jedi Council Archives. A feature of Star Wars. Com, no longer active. This is not a complete archive but have salvaged what I can.
Q : Can you describe the process and use of screen tests during the selection process for a film?
Robin Gurland: Screen tests are traditionally the final phase of the audition process for lead or supporting lead roles. The actor being tested usually does one or two scenes completely “off book” and depending on the schedules of the other lead actors cast, often they will be brought in to do the scenes along with the actor being tested. Screen tests can get very elaborate with full hair and make-up, costume and lighting or fairly simple, but they are always shot on film.
Q: The underwater scenes of Otoh Gunga had a beauty all their own. Were these particularly difficult to create, and what parts were live action vs. miniatures vs. CG?
ILM: The Otoh Gunga Boardroom scene was challenging as we needed to create an otherworldly environment with a backdrop which was underwater. We wanted everything to have a magical feeling, with warm rich colors; that in itself presented problems as we still had to convey that water, which is inherently cold, was beyond the transparent walls. Generally the only live action parts were the actors Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor; they were shot on a partial set, but even that, along with various miniature model elements of the environment, was brought into the CG world and manipulated, before being composited together with other entirely CG elements (the board members, Boss Nass, JarJar, the fish, the exterior spheres and bubbles).
Q: The location shots in the film look like places that really exist. What are the main elements that make a fantasy environment into one that the audience will believe exists?
Gavin Bocquet: George Lucas has always been keen to use real locations wherever possible for his “other worlds,” whether it’s the deserts of Tunisia, the snow fields of Norway, or the palaces of Southern Italy. By shooting in these “real” environments, you get an integrity and realism to the design that make them believable to the audience, even though they may well recognize some of the places. You can then enhance these environments digitally, or add additional set pieces, dressing and vehicles to take the environments to another place.
Q: What kinds of skills and talents does it take to be a conceptual artist?
Doug Chiang: Conceptual designers need to be good artists. Our job is communication through art. The backgrounds of each artist in the art department are often as varied as our skills. Some are wonderful creature creators, like Terryl Whitlatch, and others like Iain McCaig excel at costumes. But the common link that binds us all is the ability to draw well.
In addition, concept designers need to be world builders. We need to be architects, vehicle designers, costume and creature designers, all in one. Good designers have the ability to see the uncommon in common objects.
Q: We’ve heard a lot about “animatics,” but it’s still a bit confusing. Could you give us a simple explanation?
David Dozoretz: Animatics, also called “Pre-Visualization”, is a relatively new filmmaking tool. Essentially, it is the use of low-end, quickly rendered computer animation to test out a shot or scene before it is actually filmed. It’s the next logical extension of the storyboarding process. These animations are used to figure out the shot before principal photography. We saved a lot of time and money on Episode I The Phantom Menace because George was able to decide what a shot was supposed to look like by working with a few members of the animatic team, rather than doing it on set with a hundred people.
Q: In scouting for locations with Rick McCallum, why did you end up picking Italy for part of planet Naboo?
Gavin Bocquet: In terms of Naboo, after many months of general research, we initially decided to scout in Portugal, Spain, and Italy for Naboo. We were looking for a grand classical architecture, giving a feeling of scale and a sophisticated society. Although we could digitally enhance the scale of our locations, you still needed to start with a certain scale of real architecture to make the finished image look real. We were looking for strong clean lines in the architecture, and not too much elaborate decoration.
Q: What was one of the more difficult special effects shots in The Phantom Menace?
ILM: One of the more difficult special effects shots in Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace was in the Podrace sequence when Mars Guo’s Podracer crashes into the desert floor after Sebulba throws a wrench into his left engine. The challenge was to make a physically realistic crash of this massive Podracer (the largest of the bunch both in terms of size as well as number of parts) at a speed of 600 miles an hour! We knew that we had to show all the metal and actual parts of the model bending and twisting as they get crushed. Doing these shots as miniatures would involve throwing models onto sand at 100 miles an hour and hoping some of it would end up on film, making it very expensive, or even prohibitive, without much control given the number of Podracers that had to crash. The computer model for Mars Guo’s Podracer had the intricacies we needed, but we cut that up into even smaller pieces, a total of about 14,000, and an additional 100,000 pieces of smaller debris that came from inside it.
The main Podracer parts were “crashed” using a physics-based dynamic “simulation” with Maya software, including thousands of actual parts from the CG model that were torn off. We had to invent a way to make the larger metal parts crush and twist as they impacted the ground or other pieces. Then came the sand and dirt simulation with millions of particles, the smoke and flames, and sparks, all while the Podracer and the camera are traveling at over 600 miles an hour. So the number of different demolition elements combined with the level of realism and the high speeds made for a very difficult task to create this destruction shot.