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 Com, no longer active.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 : It appears that you were impressed with Ewan McGregor’s quick grasp of your Jedi fighting style. How did Hayden do?
Nick Gillard: Hayden Christensen was outstanding. We spent a great deal of time rehearsing. He has a totally individual style, beautiful balance and frightening speed — everything you would expect.
Q : Where did the majority of ILM animators learn their computer animation skills? Were most self-taught or is formal training and coursework the norm?
Rob Coleman: All of the animators working at ILM have a background in some form of animation. They have worked in either puppet animation, cel animation or computer animation. Many of them were interested in computer animation prior to coming to ILM, some had dabbled on their own machines and some of the newer animators had some training in school. You have to remember that good courses in computer animation at colleges and universities have come along fairly recently.
No matter what form of animation you have on your reel, whether puppet, cel or computer, we are looking for raw talent. When viewing your reel we ask ourselves some questions. How well do you animate the characters? Do the characters have weight? Do they have appeal? How well are the scenes staged? Do you seem to understand performance?
We have a great computer training department here at ILM so we are not necessarily worried about an individual’s computer skills. If needed, we’ll train them on the computer when they get here. It is much easier to teach a talented animator about computers than a computer person about animation. Of course if a candidate has both computer and animation skills, then that is great.
My advice would be to focus on demonstrating your animation skill; that is what we’re really interested in.
Rob Coleman is an Animation Director at ILM. He joined ILM in 1993 to work on The Mask and also worked on Indian in the Cupboard, Star Trek Generations and was animation supervisor/director on Dragonheart, Men in Black and Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1987 with a BFA in classical film animation. While there, he studied with the world renowned Yugoslavian animator Zlatko Grgic. His next project is directing the animation for Star Wars: Episode II.
Stuart Lowder: All of the Star Wars animation crew have either a formal background in animation or extensive work experience in the professional animation field. Many of the animators came from schools such as Sheridan College, CalArts or Ringling, or have a traditional cel animation or stop motion background with feature film and television experience. Many come from studios like Amblin, Disney, Pixar, Warner Bros. and PDI.
In general, ILM is interested in experienced animators who have a desire to use the computer as their animation tool. If someone has proven animation talent, we would consider teaching them the technical information that they need to know.
Stuart Lowder is currently the manager of the computer graphics animation department at ILM. The department consists of approximately sixty very talented and diverse animators.
Q : In Episode IV after the Battle of Yavin there are four ships: Luke and Wedge in their X-wings, Han in the Falcon, and a Y-wing fighter. Who was in the remaining Y-wing ship?
Steve Sansweet: It’s pretty definite that more than just those four ships survived from the Alliance attack on the Death Star; others just aren’t visible on screen. The Y-wing pilot has never been definitively identified. But, if you’re the gambling kind, I’d say the smart money is on Keyan Farlander, a starfighter pilot introduced in the original X-wing game from LucasArts. Back in 1992, LucasArts published a novella starring Farlander that came with some copies of the game.
The strategy guide for the game continues that story and places Farlander aboard a Y-wing fighter during the final assault on the Death Star. Farlander survives the battle, making him a good candidate for the Y-wing pilot seen at the end of the film.
Q : Who is your favorite artist?
Doug Chiang: I don’t have a favorite artist because it’s too hard to identify one specific person. All the artists that I admire are equally important and I’m discovering new artists all the time. Among the artists that have influenced me in the past are Ralph McQuarrie, Norman Rockwell, James Bama, John Stobart, Syd Mead, Frank McCarthy, and Robert Bateman.
Q : Episode II appears to be more character driven. Does that mean less work for you?
David Dozoretz: There’s tons of work for the animatic crew on Episode II. Even in dialogue scenes, we’re putting in set extensions, creatures, droids, spaceships, etc. George likes to create a “world” in each scene. He designs a rich texture to the film in which the story develops. Besides, despite being very character driven, George has definitely created opportunity in Episode II for some great, never-been-seen-before action sequences. I won’t say anything else!
Q : How many new planets are due to appear in Episode II?
Doug Chiang: There will be two new planets, and we will be developing Coruscant and Naboo further. You will see parts of Coruscant and Naboo that we have never seen before. There will be some neat surprises.
Q : There are some great natural “other world” looking landscapes here in Mexico. Will you ever come to film here?
Gavin Bocquet: It all depends where George decides the next Episode will be set. Once we see the script, George may already have seen some locations that he would like to use. But it is too early to say whether it could be Mexico.
Q : In Episode IV, was Luke’s X-wing call-sign Blue Five or Red Five?
Steve Sansweet: In the film Star Wars: A New Hope, the comm-unit designation for Luke Skywalker’s X-wing starfighter during the Battle of Yavin was Red Five. Some confusion arises because the novelization of the film, which was published six months before the movie opened and completed considerably before the film’s final editing, had different designations for squadron member call-signs.
Q : In planning and choreographing action sequences, is it sometimes difficult to mesh the different talents and abilities of the actors into a solid routine?
Nick Gillard: It’s not too difficult. We are lucky on Star Wars that we get plenty of rehearsal time with the actors. That, coupled with the fact that they want to learn how to fight with lightsabers anyway…
Q : I heard about the digital satellite broadcast of Episode I to select theaters. How did this trial run go, and will it be implemented on a larger scale for Episode II?
Rick McCallum: For the digital projection of Episode I done in four theaters last year, the movie was physically delivered on disc as opposed to delivery via satellite.
We were pleased with the results, and clearly the audiences were as well. We’re hopeful that we can increase the number of digital showings for Episode II because there are so many advantages. The main advantage is the quality of the presentation and the fact that, unlike physical film, the 100th showing will look every bit as good as the first showing. There are also other benefits, which include the cost of distribution and the cost of manufacturing thousands of reels of film. There’s a huge positive environmental impact along with that, as well.
Whether the movie crosses over high-speed data lines, arrives via satellite, on physical disc media, or some combination of the three — I think that’s still up in the air. It will be interesting to see how it plays out while considering both cost and security factors.
Q : Do you feel George is pushing yourself and ILM even further with the Episode II, or are you sticking to the techniques that were mastered during Episode I production?
David Dozoretz: We never “stick” to any technique previously used, because we’re always looking for better and faster ways to do things. But we did establish a lot of fantastic techniques and procedures for Episode I. I’d say that we’re building on those techniques.
And without question, George is greatly pushing us and ILM to new levels. He really is amazing that way — each time we think he can’t push it any more, he raises the bar to a new level. It’s exhilarating to work in that environment.
Q : What sounds, if any, from the classic trilogy could be re-used for Episodes I or II?
Ben Burtt: Obviously certain reoccurring characters such as Jawas, Tusken Raiders, and Artoo can be reused but added to as necessary in the new episodes. Jedi lightsabers, many lasers, and some environments like Tatooine can be “recycled” where appropriate. However, I am always getting new sounds and new ideas as I go along, and each film adds hundreds of new sound effects. I hope to keep expanding the sonic lexicon already built up over 25 years of sound design for these films.
Q : While working on Episode II designs, did you keep from thinking ahead to Episode III, or was it necessary for you to do so?
Doug Chiang: We are always conscious of how the new designs will be integrated into the entire Star Wars universe. Because we are only working on one part of a six-part series, the designs need to evolve with the characters and the story in a convincing matter. There needs to be some logic in the designing process to make the series visually cohesive.
Q : What can you tell us now that you’ve seen Hayden Christensen act?
Robin Gurland: He amazes me every time. He has some tricky, tricky scenes…very complicated scenes. The arc that he’s creating not only has to go through this film but the next one, and there’s a lot of texture to it. And again, the way that this is composed, George writes in these vignettes and you have to really be able to play within a certain scene, but then carry it forth. For an actor who is carrying it forth in one or two films it’s very difficult. It’s a very emotional balance that Hayden’s playing. And he can’t really give away too much on this one, because the next one is really when it’s going to come into play. He is one of the strongest actors I’ve come across in a long, long time. And it’s not just my opinion. People are constantly coming up to me on set and saying “Do you know how good he is?” Yes, I do. And these are other actors. It’s the ultimate compliment when another actor says, “This kid is something!”
Q : Does one have to be artistically-inclined to succeed in your field of expertise (do you have to be an artist)?
David Dozoretz: To succeed in pre-visualization or visual effects, one does not necessarily need fine art skills. Certainly, if you’re interested in painting textures, it helps to be able to paint. But many jobs in computer graphics require an understanding of fine art rather than the ability to draw like Picasso. I love to hire people who have studied and understand composition, lighting, color theory; because that comes up every day in what we do. For pre-visualization, it’s even better if they have a firm grasp of film language and theory.
Q : What exactly is the “Skywalker Emblem” on Anakin’s Podracer, and how did it come to exist?
Doug Chiang: The “Skywalker Emblem” originated from George’s request for alien graphics to decorate each of the Podracers. In keeping to the style of “hot rods” influence, we created a Tatooine alphabet and numbering system. The symbol that we designed for Anakin was going to be his racing number, but eventually it became the symbol for Anakin.
Q : What are the basic differences between 2-D and 3-D animation?
David Dozoretz: “2-D” means an object’s location or size is described in two dimensions, specifically height and width (x and y to mathematicians and computer artists). The addition of a third dimension, depth (z), brings us into the world in which we live everyday. The difference between two and three-dimensional animation is analogous to the difference between a sketch of a circle on a piece of paper and an actual ball. The latter can be moved around and seen from many different directions. The hard thing to sometimes grasp is that three-dimensional computer graphics are almost always shown on computer screens or television screens, which are a two-dimensional medium.
Q : In Star Wars, why does the Death Star go around the planet Yavin to blow up the fourth moon when it can simply blow up Yavin first (as it did Alderaan) and then the fourth moon without wasting any time?
Steve Sansweet: The Death Star’s superlaser is very powerful, but it’s not all powerful. Relatively speaking, a terrestrial world of rock and metal like Alderaan is easier to blow up than an immense gas giant like Yavin. The Death Star simply couldn’t blow up Yavin, and had to circle the gas giant in order to get to the much smaller moon Yavin 4.
Q : How many iterations of character, mechanical and technical concepts do you tend to do before you ‘find’ your final designs?
Doug Chiang: This varies. Sometimes we will get the design right away. But more often it will take weeks of refinements. Typically, a design will go through several stages. The first is the broad stroke design phase where we try a wide variety of directions to narrow the scope. Then we take the approved direction and start refinements. This step can sometimes turn into many weeks of work as the designs evolve until the ideal design is approved. Finally the last step, we turn the designs into a model or maquette where it may be refined further still.
Q : What styles of martial arts lend themselves best to Jedi-style combat? Are the individual fighting styles of new characters made up or are there ‘canon’ issues to consider?
Nick Gillard: Most martial arts are too strict — gymnastics lend themselves more to Jedi-style combat. There is always enough information in the script to write a fighting style that fits the character perfectly.
Q : When will the new databank section of starwars.com be completed?
Steve Sansweet: Here’s what Lucas Online’s Pablo Hidalgo had to say…
“The new starwars.com databank is a work in progress, and will be frequently updated with new material. You’ll note that the species and creatures entries aren’t there yet, but that will soon change. As the databank grows, you’ll find out new information about your favorites, as well as get a first glimpse at new characters, vehicles, droids and more from Episode II. Also, there will be entries dedicated to things only seen in the Expanded Universe of Star Wars comics, books and games. Keep checking the databank section for new updates, and enjoy the newly revamped entries that are already there.”
Q : Which was your favorite animated scene in Episode I?
David Dozoretz: I’m particularly fond of the Podrace. It’s the scene which I had the most direct connection with. I’d say I personally did the pre-visualization for about 75% of the shots. Alex Lindsay, one of my animatic artists on The Phantom Menace, did the other 25%. Also, I think it’s one of the most fun sequences in the film — it’s pure adrenaline and so different from everything else ever put on film. I get as much a kick out of watching it as I did while working on it.
Q : If you had to pick one favorite scene from any of the four Star Wars films, which would it be?
Doug Chiang: It would have to be the AT-AT battle in the beginning of Empire. That scene contained everything that inspired me as a kid to the Star Wars universe – great design, action, drama, and heroics. It is brilliant.
Q : Why didn’t Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan testify on the Queen’s behalf during the senate hearings? They had proof of the Trade Federation invasion. They were there!
Steve Sansweet: In the opening crawl to the The Phantom Menace, you’ll note that it specifically says that “Chancellor Valorum has secretly dispatched two Jedi…”. There’s the key word: secretly.
The Jedi didn’t testify because they weren’t really supposed to be there. (“The chancellor should never have brought them into this,” says Sidious). Valorum, knowing full well of the Senate’s inefficiencies, didn’t bring the matter of sending Jedi ambassadors to a vote. So, he took it under his own authority to send the Jedi to Naboo.
Already mired in “scandal and baseless accusation,” Valorum couldn’t bring up the unauthorized Jedi mission for fear of political recrimination. As it turned out, Valorum was ousted from office anyway, and the Jedi were preoccupied with Qui-Gon’s claims of finding the Chosen One of ancient prophecy.
Q : You have made mention of the various software tools you use to create the 3D models for animatics. What hardware do you use for your render farm and real-time rendering?
David Dozoretz: Well, as I’ve said many times before, I’m a very big believer that the artist is far more important than the tools. Digital technology, when you think about it, is just a fancy pencil. Granted, it’s the fanciest, most artistically liberating pencil we’ve ever come across, but it is still just a tool used to express an artist’s imagination. And without the artist, you’ve got nothing.
That said, technology is always interesting so I’ll answer your question: On Episode I, we used high-end Macintosh computers running Electric Image, Adobe After Effects, Commotion, PhotoShop, etc. On Episode II, we’ve added Alias Wavefront’s Maya software to our toolbox and it’s working out fantastically. We’re using it quite a bit.
Q : What happens to Naboo and the Gungans? They’re not mentioned in Episodes IV, V and VI. Do they get wiped out?
Steve Sansweet: Not necessarily. Remember, it’s a huge galaxy. Just because something isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean that it has disappeared. Neither Yavin nor Dantooine are mentioned in Episodes V and VI, and those places are still around. Similarly, Nepal isn’t mentioned in Temple of Doom or Last Crusade, but it still exists.
Q : Jake Lloyd has blue eyes, but Hayden Christensen has brown eyes. Was this a factor and how will it be dealt with in Episode II?
Robin Gurland: Hayden has blue eyes.
Q : Why does it take three years between the release of the new Star Wars movies?
Rick McCallum: That’s how long it takes us to make a movie.
Episode I actually took us 5 years, including one serious year of massive conceptual art design which affected not only Episode I but also Episode II and even III to a certain degree. This one took three years, one year less than the real pre-production time we had on Episode I.
For Episode III, we’re trying to start the script now and move back to about four years of total time because in reality that’s how much time we need. They’re very complicated to make.
It takes 18 months just to do the effects, and it takes six months to prepare for those effects, so that’s two years right there. It takes us basically seven months to prepare and four months to shoot… that’s another year. And then it takes us a year to conceptualize and have everything together to make the necessary commitments for locations. We don’t just shoot in the studio, we stop in five different countries, we have to get permissions, schedule, just mammoth things.