Category Archives: Inside the Holocron

Inside the Holocron – Let There Be Light!

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Let There Be Light!

As one of the three Industrial Light & Magic visual effects supervisors who worked on Episode I, Scott Squires had to deal with the creation of virtual realities on a daily basis. But the challenges of visual effects have changed a lot since the computer revolution reached cruising speed at the beginning of the 1990’s.

Now able to manipulate photons like atoms to create an entire universe and its inhabitants, the visual effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic use computers to accomplish an always-increasing number of tasks that were traditionally handled not only by model builders, but also set builders and practical effects specialists.

“Our first step is to scan the film into the computer so that the whole shot is digitized,” says Squires. “Then everything is done digitally from that point.” For visual effects veterans, this is a great leap from the way effects work was accomplished before computers took over. For instance, the traditional procedure used to combine several different elements in the same frame is called “optical compositing,” and involves the projection of a series of already-shot visual elements that are re-photographed, in sequence, on unexposed areas of a previously partially-exposed strip of film. Optical technicians first photograph a background using mattes, which are opaque silhouettes used to block out certain areas of the film. Then the technicians “fill in the gaps” by photographing the rest of the elements, placing each of them in the proper blank space left by the mattes during the first step of photography. But if the asteroid added to the star field background during step two needs to be partially covered by a spacecraft, then the asteroid will be photographed with a matte in the shape of the spacecraft on top of it, in order to leave the blank space that will be occupied by the ship in step three – and so on. When this delicate process is completed, when all the layers have been added, the result is one frame of film. Twenty-three more of these will be required to create the illusion of one second of movement on the screen.

Visual effects used to be created in such ways, because optical compositing was simply the most effective process at the time. All the space battles in the classic Star Wars Trilogy, among other scenes, were painstakingly done using optical compositing techniques. In some cases, particularly in Return of the Jedi, the procedure involved putting together up to forty layers of visual elements combined on a background, for just one frame of film. Now that the digital revolution is in full bloom, the technology allows visual effects creators to combine different elements within the memory of a computer, without ever touching a piece of film. And though the digital age gives filmmakers access to a broader range of effects than what had been possible before, the work remains just as complex as it has always been. Better doesn’t necessarily mean easier, especially in the world of visual effects.

Whether the computer is used to combine two live-action elements photographed separately or a live-action shot with a computer-generated object, the process of digital compositing remains generally the same as it was with optical compositing, with each new layer being added onto the previous ones. Except, of course, that everything is accomplished within the computer. More importantly, the output also remains the same: one frame at a time. “After the digital work it goes back out of the computer: we put out little frames every day – this is called a “wedge” – just so we can check the color and the look on film,” says Squires. Still, today’s visual effects wizards have more power, and can do more in less time than was required in the past. Gone are the days of white-gloved optical artists manipulating strips of film in a dust-free environment. But enhanced power comes with enhanced challenges.

“I guess the biggest challenge was the volume of complex shots,” Squires says. “Our team alone had to deal with 561 shots in less than a year.” Dennis Muren and John Knoll were handed out different volumes of shots, based on the complexity of the work involved. So Muren’s team had to produce 310 shots, while Knoll’s team tackled an impressive 1072 shots. In Muren’s case, the number of shots was kept at a minimum because he needed to produce scenes that were completely computer-generated: the underwater sequence and the ground battle. And since an outside, daylight scene is the most difficult environment to create digitally, the ground battle alone represented quite a challenge.

“For my team, this meant twelve to fifteen final shots each week,” continues Squires, “compared to the average output of about 5 VFX shots a week on a major motion picture. And we needed to keep the quality level up, of course. So part of the challenge on this movie was to find creative and clever solutions to problems. To speed up things, we needed to find a balance between digital and practical effects. So for certain sequences, we would shoot physical models, and then digitally enhance the footage. At other times, we might use a digital matte painting instead of having the computer render a new background for each frame. And so on. We even used salt, poured from fourteen feet up in the air, as the basic visual element for the Theed waterfalls.”

However, as Squires points out, digital technology has reached a point where another type of challenge arises: “We also need to know when to say, okay, let’s stop here,” he continues. “One of the great things about this technology is that you can control everything to the Nth degree, but a lot of times you have to take a step back and realize that the element you’re working on might end up onscreen for two seconds. And sometimes, it won’t matter whether a particular piece of hair goes this way or that way. You just have to look at it realistically and make sure that your last few months on the project are spent finishing the film, and not making half the movie more perfect than it needs to be. Basically, we bring each shot up to the level George Lucas wants and needs. Then it’s time to move on the next shot.”

As traditional visual effects artists have discovered long ago, it is not always wise to do everything to make an effect absolutely perfect simply because the technology allows its users to do so. Most of the time, an element doesn’t need to be perfect in real life to look perfect on the screen. It’s a question of balance, and in that, digital technology hasn’t lightened the burden. It may in fact have made it a bit heavier. But the wizards of ILM rose to meet the new challenges of visual effects, and stand ready to repeat the feat on Episode II. The ‘magic’ in Industrial Light & Magic doesn’t only appear in the final product on the screen : It is part of the whole process.

Inside the Holocron – Pirates Ahoy!

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Pirates Ahoy!
An Interview with Haden Blackman

Bad to the Crossbones

The expanded universe of Star Wars spin-off fiction has developed a cast of unforgettable characters that typically reside only within the media of their origin — a comic book, a novel, or an electronic game. It’s a rare and special occasion when a character draws enough attention to break through into a different medium. Such is the case with Nym, the alien pirate, who has made the jump from electronic games to comic books in Dark Horse Comics’ current series, Star Wars: Starfighter — Crossbones.

Nym is the brainchild of LucasArts story developers, and helming his comic book escapades is Haden Blackman, producer at LucasArts.

“When we were working on the first Star Wars: Starfighter, I sat down with [Project Director] Daron Stinnett. We started brainstorming different character concepts, including a Robin Hood-type pirate figure who was a little more gruff than he was flamboyant and similar to Han Solo in some ways, but we envisioned him as big and loud,” recalls Blackman.

Early concepts had pegged Nym as a human. It wasn’t until Lead Artist Jim Rice and Concept Artist James Zhang first sketched the tentacle-tressed alien that Nym gained his Feeorin heritage.

“At that point, it all came together, and we realized how cool he looked,” says Blackman. “There’s something you can do with an alien that is harder to do with a human character. You can really punch it up and go overboard with his emotion, so we really made him wear his emotions — especially his anger and frustration — on his sleeve. That was incredibly fun to write.”

Stinnett worked with a team of writers to develop Star Wars: Starfighter’s dialogue. He oversaw the recording sessions, and it was then — with the casting of actor Charlie Rocket (“Saturday Night Live,” “The X-Files”) as Nym — that the character came to life.

“He just brought a really great voice to Nym,” says Blackman, “really deep and gruff, and was able to take that certain kind of emotion we wanted to put behind Nym, and not make it too comical but really push it.”

Though internal reaction to Nym was overwhelmingly positive, it wasn’t until the game went public that Blackman knew he was dealing with a character with star potential.

“We started to receive some really good feedback about Nym. Then, Dark Horse actually came to me and asked if I wanted to do a short story featuring a character from a LucasArts game. I brainstormed some ideas, and the one they liked the most was the one with Nym.”

Thus Nym saw publication in a Blackman-penned short story in the pages of the anthology series, Star Wars Tales. Dark Horse wanted more, and Blackman was only happy to oblige.

“He’s fun to write,” the author reveals. ” I kind of describe him as the Lobo of the Star Wars universe, without the comical invulnerability. It’s the fact that he can be so loud and rude.”

A comic series was then envisioned to tie-in into the upcoming sequel to the best-selling Star Wars: Starfighter game. The Dark Horse mini-series would prepare fans for some of the events to be depicted in Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter.

“We wanted it to be a story that stood on its own, so it had to show some of Nym’s story-arc, but it also planted some seeds for the game,” says Blackman. The events of Crossbones would advance Nym’s character, aging and maturing the pirate to a level anticipating the game. “At the end of the first game, Nym just takes off. He does what Han Solo doesn’t — he turns his back on his new friends and decides to go back to his old way of life. But he can’t really, because the Trade Federation has taken everything from him. We had to get him to where he could actually become a more important leader than he was in the first game. There, he’s leading a band of pirates. In the second game, he’s leading a real resistant movement that’s fighting the Trade Federation in a remote system.”

Cast and Setting

While Nym’s moral growth is but one aspect of the three-issue series, fans of blaster-packed hard-hitting action have plenty to look forward to. Crossbones takes Star Wars piracy from the spacelanes to the high seas, and delivers a story with sail-rigged vessels, hull-scaling boardings, and deep sea treachery.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do with Star Wars,” admits Blackman. “It’s one of those ideas that has been kicking around, but there hasn’t been a good outlet for it. I’m a big pirate buff — you know, Blackbeard and Captain Kidd — so whenever I hear that term ‘space pirate’ it conjures up these other images that are outside of what we think about in Star Wars. I really wanted to make that crossover.”

Blackman’s affinity for buccaneers dovetailed well with the story development of Jedi Starfighter. “One of the things we decided early on was to have a water planet in the game.” he says, “We wanted it to be in Nym’s home setting, so that planet, Maramere, became a natural setting for the Crossbones comic.”

Aside from settings, the comic also previews upcoming characters. “Loreli Ro makes a cameo in Jedi Starfighter,” reveals Blackman, “Adi Gallia, who makes a cameo in the very beginning of Crossbones, is one of the main characters in the game.”

The previewed character with the most import, though, is the comic series’ main villain, the pirate chieftain Sol Sixxa. “Sol Sixxa has a scene with Nym in the game and tons of dialogue. We had Jeremy London (Mallrats, “Party of Five”) do his voice. He’s in several missions and he’s got his own special aquatic craft.”

By introducing Sixxa to readers first, Blackman not only previews an upcoming game character, but also sheds some light on Nym’s growth.

“In the Crossbones series, Sol Sixxa’s scope is relatively small. It’s limited to Maramere. He’s become a pretty ruthless, violent pirate. He preys predominantly on the Trade Federation, so in that way, he and Nym are similar. But Nym has grown past that. I almost see Sol Sixxa as a younger version of Nym. Nym still commits violent acts, but because he needs to, to get by, and it’s not a power trip that he’s on, like Sol Sixxa.”

Blackman’s writing is usually translated into rich vocal performances by professional actors and mindblowing graphics by electronic game artists. Having them instead rendered as pen-and-ink illustrations by artist Ramon F. Bachs is no less rewarding.

“It’s been pretty incredible working with Ramon,” says Blackman. “It’s unbelievable how he’s taken my panel-by-panel descriptions and been able to translate them very well. It almost felt like, towards the end of the series, that I wasn’t writing abstract descriptions anymore, but that I was writing concrete things that he’d translate.”

Throughout Blackman’s script are examples of faith in the artist’s ability:

Open with a large shot of the Havoc, Nym’s bomber, screaming over Maramere. It should be low to the water, kicking up wakes as it goes. It’s being pursued by several (six, seven?) Trade Federation droid starfighters. Laser-fire barely misses the large bomber. Through the next few pages, Nym engages in a battle with these droid starfighters. Yet again, if you can think of any images that would be more powerful, etc., feel free to mess around with the layout and even the action. I’m not married to any of the maneuvers described here.

“I really wanted him to have the freedom to change things so that they’re more dynamic,” says Blackman. “I’m friends with a lot of comic book artists, and talking with them before I even got started, one of the things that they say they hate is working with writers that say ‘this is the way it HAS to be,’ unless they’re someone like Alan Moore who always seems to have a larger plan. So, I try to be as flexible as possible, and try to provide as much detail as I can so that if that’s the direction he wants to head, he can translate that as well. Ramon’s just really intuitive, and even though we’ve only exchanged e-mails and have never met, we’re on the same wavelength, which is great.”

The future for Nym looks bright, says Blackman. “We plan to use Nym in one of our other game titles that takes place in the Galactic Civil War period. We do want to keep him around and use him again. If there are any future Starfighter games, Nym will probably be a part of them.”

Blackman looks forward to his future, too, particularly in writing comics. Recently announced is his four-issue high profile Star Wars: Jango Fett — Open Seasons series coming out in April.

“I really hope to write more comics in the future,” says Blackman. “The Nym comic was great because it’s sometimes just really fun to write a one-note character, and Nym is maybe a two-note character. He’s pretty in your face, and that’s really fun to write, but the tone of Open Season is totally different than Crossbones, and I’m really excited about that. Hopefully, if both of these series do well , I’ll get to do some other stuff.”

Inside the Holocron – Robin Gurland, Casting Director

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Robin Gurland, Casting Director

Episode I was a very atypical assignment,” begins Robin Gurland. “The casting started in July 1995.” This was almost two years in advance of principal photography. “I’ve never had the luxury of such a lead time in casting before, but fortunately Rick McCallum had the foresight to know that we’d need an in-depth pre-casting period. It allowed me to look as long as I needed to get the perfect people.”

Casting, Gurland says, is far from an exact science. “There is no finite specific set of tasks,” she explains, “no checklist. There could always be somewhere else to look. And every agent in the business had people available to work on this Star Wars film!”

The casting project began atypically as well, Gurland notes. “There were no principals attached. I could look at anybody.” Star actors are often identified at a film project’s inception, but Gurland had a blank slate to work with. “Outsiders kept saying that we would ‘of course choose unknowns’ for the parts, but the truth is that I had no constraints. It didn’t matter whether someone was unknown or famous. All we wanted was the right person for the part.”

As for her techniques of casting, Gurland comments that “first instincts are usually best. This was true here in the cases of Ewan and Natalie. We went through the whole review process nonetheless, looking at everyone else, but we came back to our origins.”

Her quest began with brief summaries from writer-director George Lucas and Producer Rick McCallum. “I had thumbnail sketches of the characters from George to start with. Two months later I was working from the script itself.” Gurland worked on finding players for the two youngest roles (Anakin and Padme) first, then moved on to the Jedi Knights eventually portrayed by Ewan MacGregor and Liam Neeson. Around these principal actors she built the rest of the cast. “By January 1997 or so, I was fully casting the whole film,” she says.

Casting Anakin Skywalker was a particular challenge. “I first saw Jake Lloyd when he was five years old, when I was first starting the process. Of course, he was much too young at the time, but I was looking towards the future. Every six months or so I would check back in on him, to see how he was developing and what kind of identity was emerging in him.” Anakin’s character sketch carried not just traits but a very specific age, and at first Gurland thought Lloyd simply wouldn’t be the right age at the right time to play the part. “But he really stood out,” she says. “In the end, as a start date for principal photography was finalized and as George settled on the age of the character, Jake’s age worked out as well as his personality, and we had our Anakin.” Keeping an eye on promising talent and following up on her prospects over the course of the whole casting process allowed Gurland to settle on ideal choices time and again.

Gurland enjoys her job very much. “It has been wonderful to see how much talent is out there!” she says. “This big search will be helpful for future projects. I like working with actors-tweaking performances for auditions, and seeing what you can get out of a little bit of material. I also love talking with actors about the philosophy of theater.”

To hopeful future film performers, Gurland suggests “get in something, to get yourself seen! Theater, low budget films, anything. Be an extra on a film, just to try it out or get started.” Good intentions alone are not enough, she says. Letters pledging enthusiasm and asking ‘just give me a chance’ don’t get anywhere when there are so many people with demonstrated ability to review . “As an actor you need proof to show what you can do. Even a small part in a bad film can offer a chance for a noticeably good performance. As long as the role is not fighting your basic sensibility, or something repugnant, then take it and do your best,” she advises. Gurland stresses the need for a serious commitment, sounding a little like our favorite Jedi Master when she says this. “Do your homework, and know what you’re talking about,” she adds. “Acting is not something to be undertaken on a whim. You need to love your craft.”

The casting of Episode I was an enjoyable process for Gurland for many reasons. “Fortunately, our ideas about the principal actors were all aligned. George and Rick backed me up 100%,” she says. “I didn’t have to buy into any of the industry game-playing. We ended up with a wonderful cast that brings so much to the film.”

Which brings Gurland to the threshold of Star Wars: Episode II. Has the casting process begun for the prequel sequel? “Not formally,” she says. “But I was just noticing some interesting possibilities the other day….”

Inside the Holocron – Building A Galaxy Board By Board

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Gavin Bocquet: Building A Galaxy Board By Board

For Star Wars: Episode I, Production Designer Gavin Bocquet faced the usual challenges of turning ideas and concept art into three-dimensional sets. But the size and complexity of Episode I, with its many otherworldly environments, presented Bocquet and his team with some extraordinary challenges too. Many of the environments in Star Wars: Episode I had to be created in the studio as sets, since nothing like them exists anywhere on Earth. Building these otherworldly places and making them real for the camera was Bocquet’s job.

“Generally my role is to produce any constructed background that you see behind the actors, whether it’s an in-studio set or on location, including props and set dressing. In short, we deal with any inanimate objects,” Bocquet says. All together, he and the designers and crafts people who work with him built around 55 sets. “About 40 of those were constructed on the stages at Leavesden and the rest were on location,” he adds.

Bocquet himself designed some of the sets, but in most cases he was responsible for bringing to life the elaborate designs of Doug Chiang (Director of Concept Design) and his team. Bocquet would turn Art Department renderings into construction diagrams, figuring out how to build in wood and plaster the fantastic worlds spun from imagination.

The Production Designer also got lots of guidance from George Lucas and Producer Rick McCallum. “George had been thinking about this project for years, and he and the concept art staff had been working together for many months before I signed on. As on most films, our job was to interpret the director’s ideas and convert them into some sort of visual form,” Bocquet says.

Bocquet has considerable experience working for Lucas and McCallum. He was Production Designer for the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, for which he received an Emmy Award. He also has ties to the original Star Wars Trilogy, having been an art department draftsman on Return of the Jedi. His feature film production design experience includes Radioland Murders and Kafka, among his other credits.

On some film projects, final sets can change dramatically in appearance from the way they are first visualized by an artist because of issues of cost, time or design impracticalities. But on Episode I it has been more a matter of subtle changes as sets approached the construction stage. “The development of every environment was sort of an organic process,” Bocquet says. “Using early sketches and foam-core models, reference or location photos and just sharing ideas, the process moved along until we got something much more defined.”

One challenge was to determine in advance just how much of a set should be built on stage and how much would later be done digitally by Industrial Light & Magic. “Since we’re producing one part of the film before digital work is underway, we all had to make assumptions about what we should build and what could be achieved at ILM,” Bocquet says.

Another unusual aspect of working on sets for Episode I is that many could be left standing for planned further use after the completion of phase I principal photography, since Lucasfilm has a long-term lease at Leavesden Studios. “Normally studios are expected to clear out one group of sets and get the next film right in to pay the rent,” Bocquet says. “But it’s a great advantage to Lucasfilm, because it has tied up the studio for a longer period of time, to be able to leave sets up to come back and shoot newly-written bits and pieces if necessary.”

When asked if there’s a single set or even a specific room for Episode I that he’s most proud of, Bocquet grins. “No, and I’ve been asked that question a few times,” he says. “There are five or six major environments that are totally different from each other. And even the smallest set can provide its own satisfaction. It’s not just about scale or things being unusual. Generally, it’s the whole lot of them together that provides the greatest satisfaction.

“Actually, a better time to ask that question would be after we’ve all seen the film. Because until then, we’re never quite sure what’s going to be seen and what isn’t,” Bocquet adds.

The designer points out that even with wildly unusual environments, Lucas likes them to relate to environments that are familiar to the audience. “So we’ll come up with geographical or environmental things like forests or deserts, or architectural styles that are known such as classical or art nouveau-things that give the audience some sort of key. If you try to design something completely in the abstract, something not of this world, there’s less chance that the audience will believe in it. They need to have something to latch on to, even if it’s subconsciously.”

Working with location filming was fairly similar to doing the sets at Leavesden, Bocquet says. “There’s obviously the geographical distance and the communications problems that entails, meaning you can’t get back the information as quickly and as visually as you’d like. So you have to delegate and trust the people you employ to use a lot of their own creativity. I was only in Tunisia once every two or three weeks when the sets were being built.”

The timing of the location shoot was arranged mid-way through the filming schedule, partly to give the production crew at Leavesden a chance to dismantle some of the first wave of sets there and build the second wave in their place. “Since there was only one or two days of shooting on many of the sets, without that break it would have been impossible to get all the sets built-even though Leavesden is a very large studio. One advantage of that size was that we were able to prefabricate a lot of the second group of sets away from the stages where they would be shot.”

Many of the decisions regarding camera angles and specific areas of the sets to shoot were made in discussions as the sets were designed. Sometimes, however, Lucas would decide to shoot from different angles. “Filmmaking and design aren’t fixed sciences,” Bocquet says. “Everything must be as flexible as possible, and you just have to be prepared to get as close as possible to the shot that the director wants.”

Doing a film such as Episode I is a constant learning experience, Bocquet says. “Every day there’s something to learn, whether it’s dealing with a tiny screw and trying to decide which head it should have on it, to the conceptualizing, planning, scheduling and the economics,” he adds. “If you’re not always learning something then your job probably isn’t quite as interesting as it should be.”

Inside the Holocron – The Very Model of a Modern Major Model Shop

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The Very Model of a Modern Major Model Shop

Traditional model-making retains a strong role in the creation of Star Wars: Episode I. In fact, the model works at ILM sprawl throughout several large rooms and workshops, and there is a tremendous amount of model work underway. A walk through the Episode I model shop reveals an astonishing level of model construction for a film being created in imaginative cinema’s new digital age. White maquettes, projects in gray primer, finished works, and huge castings crowd every space available. They make a strong statement for the health of traditional model-making artistry around here.

“We’re using a combination of models and CG work,” says Episode I Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll. “For each effect we’re using the technique that is appropriate, best suited to the particular situation. An effect may be easier to achieve in one medium or another, and we go with what makes sense. We have found that models remain the best solution to some of our challenges.”

The Episode I model shop is, in fact, bustling with activity and personnel. You can walk from one room of Episode I model-makers, to another…to another. They seem to be everywhere. This isn’t what they were expecting a few years ago.

A 1994 exhibition featured original Star Wars Trilogy movie models at the Yerba Buena Gardens Center for the Arts in San Francisco. This exhibit included an introduction by the museum curator that suggested that due to the innovations in computer-generated effects, these models were the final works of a closing era. “At Yerba Buena I thought I was reading my epitaph as a model maker,” reflected Steve Gawley, Episode I’s Model Supervisor. And one often reads of the digital revolution that has ‘made special effects models obsolete.’ “But we’ve been busier in the last two years than we have ever been before,” Gawley observed. The successful marriage of model effects and cutting-edge work has brought about a model-making renaissance. Just as it was back in 1976 during the making of Star Wars, innovative approaches to creative visual effects are contributing to the power of illusion that supports George Lucas’ imaginative storytelling.

As the small army of dedicated builders make progress on their many works, Star Wars traditions are alive and strong in the ILM model shop. The original Rebel Blockade Runner sits in one of the workrooms: this is Princess Leia’s ship, which fled the colossal Star Destroyer in Star Wars’ famous opening shot. The very first spaceship seen in the very first Star Wars movie was brought in to inspire the artists creating the models for Episode I. In more ways than one, this film is a journey to back to Star Wars’ beginnings.

Steve Gawley’s Star Wars model making experience stretches back to the very first movie. Today he is the overall Model Supervisor for Episode I. Gawley explains that far from being phased out, movie models actually retain a variety of uses in the era of computer-generated (CG) effects. These uses occupy three major categories.

Models as Conceptual Tools

“We’ve found that models help directors and the many creative people on a film project get a handle on a design, to size it up and to find the best camera angles,” Gawley says. “It is easier for most people to happen on serendipitous discoveries with a model than with a wire-frame computer version that is hard for them to manipulate and experience. You can easily look at something physical and realize ‘hey, it looks great from this angle,’ or ‘it would look really cool for it to move like this.’ It’s a matter of a real model being easier to deal with.”

Models for Physical Effects

Fire, water, crashes, and especially explosions are all physical effects that remain difficult to create convincingly in the computer, Gawley continues. While such effects can be done CG, ‘rigging the explosive powder’ or arranging some other live physical effect is often significantly less trouble than programming the myriad fine subtleties needed to portray a truly realistic physical effect in the computer. Accordingly, the use of real models for “pyro” or other practical effects remains in some cases the preferred solution.

Veteran Star Wars model maker Lorne Peterson is now one of four Chief Model-Makers in the Episode I shop. Peterson explains that “some realistic appearance effects, like textures and weathering in surface detail, can be easier and quicker to do with a real sculpture or model, with real paints and pastels rather than CG tools.” Rock textures or engine fuel stains might be created quickly and convincingly by hand but might take a long time to make realistic if done purely in the computer. John Knoll also emphasizes this aspect of practicality: “Grime effects, corrosion, oil streaks, things like that can be very quick and easy to create using chemicals or paints or whatever. If you can do a really good effect in five minutes with bleach and a rag, why bother trying to re-create it with the computer?”

On-Screen Models

Finally, some models remain destined for screen time themselves, continuing the long cinematic tradition of special effects miniature photography. The word “miniature,” however, is a relative term. Huge models are even now under construction at ILM for Episode I, for subjects ranging from vehicles to architecture to whole environments. Colossal starships and huge buildings are taking shape in such detail as to defy the eye. They simply seem impossible, even on close inspection, and even, in many cases, without their final paint work. They are covered with textures and levels of seemingly infinite detail. One can only imagine how amazing the final product will look on screen, filmed to appear life-size and in full color.

Episode I producer Rick McCallum has high praise for the work in progress, which he emphasizes as vital to the production. “The guys at the model shop are doing an absolutely remarkable, incredible job. They’re terrific. Digital technology is wonderful-it’s brilliant, and it can do so much-but you can’t forget that sometimes a model is still the coolest way to go, and these people are doing tremendous work.”

Model techniques, like those of sound design and all the other arts that go into a Star Wars film, are just another way of translating a story’s vision to the screen. With both the strength of tradition and the dynamism of cutting edge approaches to capturing visual images, cinematic imagination is able to roam more freely than ever before.

Inside the Holocron – The Creatures Of Episode I Take Form

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The Creatures Of Episode I Take Form

Star Wars: Episode I has presented Creature Effects Supervisor Nick Dudman and his team with a daunting array of challenges in the realm of creating convincing alien characters. The broad and unusual range of life forms populating the worlds of Episode I begin their lives as sketches. In sketches, practicalities do not operate, and the artist is free to create according to imagination. But to make it off the sketch-paper into the movie, the creature has to take form…somehow. Once selected and modified to director George Lucas’ satisfaction, the creatures are computer-generated (CG) or realized as physical creations (animatronics, prosthetics, puppets).

Nick Dudman told us, “When they first approached me about animatronic or prosthetic work in the film, they did not know how much there would be. They had decided that Yoda would be a puppet, made the same way as he was before. And then the list of animatronics creatures started to grow. Gradually all these other creatures started surfacing, where they would say, ‘well, actually, maybe this should be a puppet too.'”

Dudman is the first to admit that some things simply belong in the realm of CG. “There are lots of things we can’t do that CG can. I have no intention of ever going to a full-size brontosaurus! With CG, you don’t need to.” And ILM is shouldering an impressive load of creature effects that draw upon the unique capabilities of the computer medium. At the same time, animatronics work remains the ideal solution for many effects. “There are plenty of things where you can say, ‘actually, for this shot, this sequence, we don’t need to CG it.’ And so we build it.” Meetings with ILM sorted out how the creatures in each shot would be most appropriately realized. It’s not unusual to have a single character realized in different ways. In Episode I, for example, Yoda will be performed by Frank Oz once more. In later films, should the Jedi Master need to walk and move around, a CG Yoda will “step in.”

Some of these decisions came late. One type of creature was always planned to be CG. Just twelve weeks before they were due on set in the schedule, Dudman was suddenly asked, “Can you do these animatronically? And they have to lip-sync.” Dudman replied, “Yes, I suppose we can.” It was a race. His department reached into its magician’s hat of inspiration, late nights and determined effort, and the creatures were ready the day before they were needed.

Other creatures were intended from the beginning to be CG, but were created physically as well for other reasons. Dudman’s shop created one ‘CG character’ to assist ILM for lighting and coloring reference. “They used our suit to walk through the set and allow light to fall on it and show where all the highlights are. It’s a reference for ILM when they do their rendering later on.” This approach saves ILM the considerable time and trouble of doing it from scratch. On-set animatronics creatures also assist the actors in reacting and relating to non-human characters. “That human connection is one of the reasons why I like building animatronic things or doing prosthetic make-ups, because you actually walk something that’s real in front of people, and you get a reaction from them. With a lot of our creatures, the real kick for us, is just to be able to have kids on the set and see the reaction you get.”

Dudman is always quick to acknowledge the special powers of CG creations. “CG creatures look and behave beautifully. They always look right and always hit their marks. They’re great. And we are fully aware of the limitations in terms of what we can get our creatures to do as opposed to CG.” Nonetheless, animatronics and prosthetic work, even puppets, still hold an important place in the world of Episode I. Dudman carries on a rich tradition in his creature shop, having worked on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with the legendary Stuart Freeborn. Dudman’s history with Freeborn and the Episode I re-creation of a certain Jedi Master are stories we’ll visit here in the future.

Inside the Holocron – The Composite Identity of a Jedi Master

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The Composite Identity of a Jedi Master

Even a Jedi Master has to practice his lines. Today we are in one of Leavesden’s flight sheds, the old hangars now taken over for additional stage space. Frank Oz is on the scene, a distinctive and distinguished figure in white. The accomplished director of films such as In and Out, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob? and Little Shop of Horrors, Oz has briefly stepped back to the world of Star Wars to offer his inimitable performance as the Jedi sage Yoda.

Assisting Oz in his performance are three other master puppeteers: Kathy Smee, Don Austen, and David Greenaway. Modern technology could probably allow a single person to perform the entire character, but this traditional group performance allows special attention to be devoted to each individual aspect of the character.

Greenaway compares their rehearsals to the practice of an ensemble preparing, like a quartet. “When it works,” Greenaway says, “it’s like good jazz – improvisation gives it life. We learn to work together, and trust each other, learn each other’s rhythms.” He smiles. “There’s a great amount of feeling the Force.” In performance, David Greenaway becomes the windows to the soul of a Jedi Master: he is the eyes of Yoda. Complex and reflective, Greenaway brings great subtlety to his work, and must be in perfect sync with Oz for the performance to work. “Ideally with the eyes I have to be a split second ahead of Frank, or exactly with him,” Greenaway says. Having been the eyes of Yoda for Return of the Jedi, he was specifically called in by Oz for the same role in Episode I.

Soft-spoken Kathy Smee is Yoda’s right arm, working right alongside Frank Oz, while the other two performers work nearby via radio controls. Of the puppeteers’ performances, she notes that “You can’t be trying to do your own thing. Frank performs the character. He is the character. We just try to give him freedom, to work with his performance, to flow with it. Because no matter what we rehearse, Frank will always do something a little more, a little different for the real take.”

Don Austen laughs about the pitfalls of impressing the audience when one doesn’t mean to. “You make a big wrong move with Yoda’s ears in the middle of Frank’s performance, and on a 60-foot-high movie screen it’s going to throw people back in their chairs like an IMAX film!” Turning serious, but still smiling, Austen considers the tightrope they walk. “You want to do more than simple basic puppeteering with these things–more than just ‘ears up, he’s happy! And ears down, he’s morose.’ You want to lend some dimension with the work, but not overdo it.”

Of the supporting performers for Yoda, George Lucas comments on the set, “What goes on back there is extremely important.” The group turns intense and focused as they become Yoda together, working through run after run, getting the timing of a single blink down to perfection within the performance. It seems no surprise that Oz has chosen these people as his ensemble.

“I look for sensitivity, awareness,” says Oz of his co-performers, “for a sensibility that will work for the character. And, also the ability to work well with the monitors.” During performance and rehearsal, the Yoda performers all watch TV monitors to see how their work looks in action. What’s it like seeing and being Yoda again? “It’s nice seeing old friends again,” Oz says of his co-performers, “and Yoda is like an old friend too. But it’s still a challenge.” It’s a challenge that Oz and his ensemble are clearly ready to meet. “David’s right, it is like music,” Oz reflects. “When everything works, we get to a place where things just happen.” And there the Jedi master comes alive once more.

Inside the Holocron – David Dozoretz

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David Dozoretz, Animatics Supervisor

On-site at Skywalker Ranch is a small group of artists using computer-generated movies called animatics to pre-visualize the imaginative sequences of Star Wars: Episode I. George Lucas and his editors rely on this team to fine-tune the Episode I vision, re-working shot composition and the movie’s flow through the animatics before the finalized versions are sent out to Industrial Light and Magic as blueprints for finished effects. Leading the animatics department is animator-artist David Dozoretz, who brings to his work not only a specialized knowledge of technology, but an appreciation for filmmaking and visual storytelling.

While he is best known around here for his computer expertise, Dozoretz got his degree from film school rather than in computer science. His heart is clearly with the art of film, and his skills are a means to an end. “We are striving to be filmmakers and not just technicians up here,” he says.

Dozoretz had become an Assistant Art Director at ILM by 1993, doing conceptual art and rendering computer-generated elements for feature films (including Dragonheart, Disclosure, Star Trek: Generations, and Forrest Gump) and commercial projects for companies such as Intel, Dreamworks and THX. This work led to a special assignment on a film called Mission: Impossible.

“The studio was not too excited about the helicopter-train chase sequence at one point,” Dozoretz recalls. “They were having reservations about it.” Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll had the idea that ILM could demonstrate the potential of the sequence using simple computer-generated animatics with stick figures to convey the excitement and flow of the scene. Dozoretz’ expertise with computers, especially with three-dimensional programs, made him a natural choice for the job.

“In four weeks we put together about a hundred low-resolution shots,” Dozoretz says. “It was the first time CG animatics had been used to pre-visualize an entire sequence.” Dozoretz’ Mission: Impossible animatic helped sell the sequence to Paramount, to star Tom Cruise, and to the filmmakers themselves. The visual communication of the animatic allowed everyone involved to share enthusiasm based on a common understanding. The animatic shots were very closely followed for the final footage in the film, resulting in one of the most thrilling cinematic chase sequences in recent years. The animatics concept had proven itself.

Dozoretz first put his animatics experience to work for Star Wars when ILM was creating new footage and effects for the Star Wars Special Edition. His animatics helped George Lucas refine his direction for new shots of stormtroopers in the Tatooine dunes, as well as map out the newly-generated CG scenes such as the closing celebrations in Return of the Jedi.

Then Producer Rick McCallum saw the Mission: Impossible animatic. “I immediately said, ‘Who did this? We have to have this person on Episode I!’ John Knoll gave me David’s name. I called Jim Morris, president of ILM, and got the OK to steal him.”

In July 1995, Dozoretz became the third artist hired for Episode I – and its first computer artist. He took an office at Skywalker Ranch and had his first meeting with George Lucas at age 24. Speaking the language of film was a major assist for Dozoretz in communicating with his new boss. “Having some background that is not just technical has made a real difference,” Dozoretz says. “Not enough people know the language and history of cinema. But this is really about filmmaking, not just technique, and all that legacy is very important. In the work we do, understanding Eisenstein and David Lean is as vital as knowing the latest software.”

When he was brought on board, Dozoretz was immediately introduced to the principal action sequence of Episode I. “It was clearly a very dynamic concept,” Dozoretz noted. “And George had these terrific storyboards worked up. But the sequence is inherently about speed and dynamism, and you need motion to communicate that fully.” George first used a crude form of animatics on Star Wars 20 years before, using World War II documentary footage to simulate the fighters in the end battle. He refined the technique in Empire and Jedi using traditional animation. Building from the Episode I storyboards, Dozoretz brought in animatics on the new project to represent some of the more complex shots, and “just kept going,” he says. “The whole sequence originally had something like four or five hundred storyboards done. The storyboards were fantastic visions, and they served as absolutely vital starting points.”  But as George got into doing animatics, and playing around with the possibilities in motion, we left many of them behind.” As the role of animatics grew, so did the animatics team, and Dozoretz became the supervisor of his own independent department. The team prides itself on being able to respond immediately, giving George Lucas and the editors lightning turnarounds – often within mere hours – when shot changes are requested.

“Frankly, I was shocked when I first met him,” says McCallum. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, who is this kid?’ But I was amazed, instantly, to see how quickly he responded to the situation, and I have depended on him so much in the production of this film. He has taken his work to a whole new level and made it possible for me to communicate clearly with the art department, with Leavesden, with everyone involved.”

The main thing that has struck Dozoretz during his work on Episode I is that “It’s not about technology, it’s about filmmaking. George knows what filmmaking tools work for him, and animatics are one of those tools.” And how does Dozoretz feel about playing such a large role in creating compositions that will appear, often verbatim, on the big screen in Star Wars: Episode I? “Are you kidding?” he says. “It’s the coolest thing in the world.

Inside the Holocron – Trisha Biggar

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Trisha Biggar: Of Imaginary Wardrobes and Real-Life Clothes

Costume Designer Trisha Biggar could rely on her broad background of experience when she set out to meet the many costuming challenges of Star Wars: Episode I. Her work with prestigious British theatre companies, like the Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre, and her extensive film and television experience (including The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) had more than prepared her for whatever obstacles would arise during her work on the next chapter of the Star Wars saga. Still, the unusual aspects of the project made it inevitable that she would be confronted with at least a few new and stimulating challenges.

Episode I is the fourth Star Wars film, yet it brings to life a previous generation, whose actions shaped events that took place before the classic trilogy; and so Biggar had to make sure costume continuity was respected, while at the same time drawing on her skills and imagination in order to trace her own path through new territory.

The first and foremost challenge was the sheer volume of costumes required to bring to life George Lucas’ vision, and the short time frame in which all of these ideas had to become physical reality. In less than a year, over one thousand costumes were painstakingly designed and put together, piece by piece. When working on a project of this scale, careful management of a productive team is essential; and so Biggar was there at every step, making sure that each member of the team was doing exactly what was needed.

Inspiration for the realization of this myriad of costumes came from a variety of sources, including, of course, the classic Star Wars trilogy. “We obviously had to have some continuity from the first films, and we had, among others, the Jedi costumes,” Biggar says. “Since we see them again in Episode I, we tried to link through and bring parts of their costumes from the first film back into this one. We used virtually the same Jedi cloak, but we experimented with different types of fabric. And we modified the undergarments to make them more suitable for younger men, men who have to fight.”

Other inspirational sources included the cultures of several countries, mixed together and revised with the Star Wars universe in mind. Even the Roman Empire influenced some of the designs. But no hypothetical future style shows up in Biggar’s work, for her designer eyes were always turned toward the past. “The costumes have all been drawn from the past. A long time ago. Not futuristic,” she says.

Devising a real cloth costume based on a design drawing is a process that Biggar was well familiar with, but Episode I made this a bigger challenge than usual, for Star Wars’ exotic setting gave rise to some concepts that were very highly imaginative. Another difficulty lay in the fact that some of the costumes were intended for characters who were not human. And on top of that, Biggar had to keep in mind that certain pieces of clothing were to be worn during action scenes, sometimes even fitted to stuntmen who jumped, fell, and pushed themselves – and the costumes they wore – to their limits.

The Royal Guard costume, briefly seen in part 4 of our “Lynne’s Diary” behind-the-scenes documentary, is one example. “We had to look at what the people who would be wearing the costumes would be doing. And so a few of them had to be adapted so the people wearing them wouldn’t injure themselves. Some different fabrics for stuntmen, and so on,” Biggar says.

Staying true to an already deep and detailed universe while at the same time improving old concepts and introducing completely new ideas is a challenge like few others, but one that Biggar could match up to and enjoy. “Everything was great fun, really, because there was such a wide variety of things to do,” she concludes with a smile.

Inside the Holocron – Kevin Baillie

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Kevin Baillie

There’s a distinctive red Mitsubishi Eclipse parked at Skywalker Ranch: that means Kevin Baillie is on the scene. Arriving early and staying late, Kevin Baillie works in the Art Department, behind locked doors in a special aerie workshop of creativity.

He’s an animatics artist, constructing moving blueprints for the shots that ILM will fashion for Star Wars: Episode I. Kevin composes shots, places spacecraft at their most interesting angles, calculates trajectories, and builds whole landscapes in the computer, all for the constantly – evolving prototype sequences that “previsualize” the final footage of Episode I.
He’s easygoing and down-to-earth, despite the extraordinary work he performs and the company he keeps with such Oscar-winners as Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren. Kevin fits in well with the unusual crew of artisans assembled in the Episode I Art Department – they are all good company and confident of their abilities. But Kevin is only 18, and that does make him stand out, even around here.

Harnessing the energy and creativity of youth is nothing new in the world of Star Wars production. To create the innovative sights and sounds of Star Wars years ago, George Lucas drew upon the talents of many young people fresh out of film school or at the beginnings of their careers. For Episode I, that recipe is in force again, only this time it includes some people fresh out of high school. Sometimes talent and dedication make age irrelevant.

Living in Seattle, Kevin and his friend Ryan Tudhope began working with the computer modeling program 3D Studio during their freshman year. Together the two pushed each other to learn and create with computer tools, until they were attracting attention with their expertise. They created architectural visualizations for work on the Space Needle in their spare time, and ended up working for Microsoft on a CD-ROM project. The two friends then appeared in a George Lucas Educational Foundation documentary on learning programs at their high school, and that’s when they were spotted by notorious Episode I Producer Rick McCallum. The quality of their work brought them an invitation to Skywalker Ranch to meet Rick, George Lucas, and the Art Department, and to hear about the ways in which previsualizations and computer modeling were mapping out the route to Episode I’s final form.

Kevin and Ryan were “amazed at it all,” and the visit had its unspoken but intended effect: “From that day on,” Kevin says, “we were determined to do the best we could to impress them.” Over the next year they logged countless hours in front of their monitors, creating scenes and effects, overlying CG elements on video footage, making computer-movie projects for classes from science to creative writing. “We worked to improve ourselves and our skills as much as we could. We’d stay at school until the alarms made us go home. We learned so much! We hardly had any life for all that time, but we drew on everything in our classes to make our movies better – art, physics – it all went into improving our work. We just banged our heads into it, encouraging each other and pushing each other to keep advancing.”

From time to time their packages would arrive at Rick McCallum’s doorstep, but what chance was there that two high school seniors would get picked for the Star Wars project? “It seemed impossible,” Kevin admits, “but we did everything we could to stand out with our work.” And this past summer, it was enough. They were brought on board for Episode I.

Now Kevin is an integral member of the animatics team, contributing along with five other artists. These team members and the story of their vital role in making Episode I will appear here on in several future profiles and features.

“My age was actually an asset for me,” Kevin says, “not a liability. It’s so much easier for a young person to stand out. Adults are impressed when you take the initiative to go out and do what you love.”

And while there was some good fortune in being at the right place and time to get noticed, it wasn’t luck that got him his job. It was consistent focus and effort. “If you want to get somewhere really badly,” Kevin says, “it makes you work as hard as you need to. That’s what can get you into even a tough field. I really believe that anything is possible for a person who’s willing to dedicate himself.” In Kevin’s case, the results speak for themselves.

Inside the Holocron – The Art of Visual Storytelling

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The Art of Visual Storytelling
Ryan Church and Erik Tiemens

Previsualizing Lighting, Mood and Color

A common notion is that when a film is as deep in its post-production phase as Episode II is, the concept art work has long been completed and the Art Department sits empty. That is not the case for Erik Tiemens and Ryan Church, two talented artists that were brought in late last year to offer their talents in developing Episode II’s rich palette of color and mood.

“We provide key-frame production illustrations that are the link between the concept work that Doug [Chiang] and his group did, and the final work that the ILM matte painters and the effects crew will be doing. It’s kind of previsualizing lighting, mood and color schemes,” describes Church.

“Studying footage that has been shot in Australia, London and elsewhere, we are sometimes dealing with lightly constructed sets and lots of blue-screen captured on digital plates,” says Tiemens, “Our job is to take that blue-screen void and make it come to life as environmental landscapes via production paintings. This provides a method of blocking out scenes, quickly giving George Lucas a flexible template in the editing room. In collaboration with the animatics artists’ 3-D work, we can deliver a complete rough cut to ILM as a reference guide.”

“Some of the colors we’ve been working with are very bright reds and oranges,” describes Church, “very passionate and luminous, hearkening back to historical illustration. There are foreboding color schemes and atmospheres that go with the story as well. It’s all very dramatic.”

The heightened dramatic potential drew Tiemens to the project. “I was delighted to hear that [Producer] Rick McCallum and George wanted to intertwine a feeling of drama and moodiness as often seen in turn of the century American landscape painting, like that of Thomas Moran and Albert Bierdstadt. When I see a stormy sky over the bay, with one little glowing pocket of sunlight glittering near the horizon, I am struck by the emotions it carries –- something mysterious and hopeful. Observing different lighting conditions, colors and how you frame the subject matter are all crucial to the visual storytelling process.”

In addition to quick yet detailed color studies, the two have delved into concept designs tied to specific shots and camera angles, as well as conceptual work on new elements that have popped into the evolving storyline. “There are a couple of major sequences that weren’t completely fleshed out. Erik and I have had a chance to get into it, and design it from the ground up,” says Church.

The two artists bridge the Art and Animatics Departments, working to produce illustrations keyed to specific animatics camera angles. “It’s designed for a shot,” explains Church of some of his work. “It examines an environment that was roughly designed by Doug’s group. What does that environment look like with this specific plate? What does it look like in this shot?”

Once the artwork has been completed and approved, usually on a very tight schedule, the digital art is carefully composited into the animatic to fill in the empty blue and green-screen currently throughout Episode II. “The animatics demands are so heavy that often we’ll get something in the morning that will be due at the end of the day,” says Church. “Erik and I did 14 paintings in two weeks of the end battle, and they got all approved by George. That means we were really on the same page, conceptually, because we kind of went crazy. We were kind of pushing things.”

“We have a quick turnaround rate,” concurs Tiemens. “I think that’s good, because as artists we can be overly precious with details in artwork. It’s refreshing to me. You are literally working at a gut level response. If George wants a rich, moody sunset in a decrepit warehouse district, you may not have the time to explore the idea with various color thumbnail sketches, but rather you just get it done on that one final.”

For scenes that will be entirely computer-generated, like some of the epic vistas seen in the last quarter of the film, Church and Tiemens have produced rich, colorful production paintings envisioning these important events. These paintings serve as valuable reference for the finished shots that will be delivered by Industrial Light & Magic.

“It’s like doing a digital feature,” says Church. “Doing these all digital environments where you have to design everything about it. You’re building, and designing and lighting everything. This is more similar to that than a typical live action show.”

The two artists, though traditionally trained in hands-on brush and paint, use digital tools to mimic the look. “It’s for the time-constraint,” explains Church. “We’re working over digital files that are sent to us by the Animatics Department. It’s always quicker to work on the computer. You’ve got the flexibility that you don’t have with a traditional painting. It stays within the digital realm instead of having to go back out and be scanned and taken back in and adjusted. It just saves a lot of steps.”

“The software we use bridges the gap between digital art and my preference for sketch painting outdoors using gouache and pastels,” explains Tiemens. “You can bring some of that spontaneity into the digital medium with these programs. A quick pencil layout can be scanned in the computer, providing a base for a digital painting. We also send digital files to Animatics and see how lighting on the actors holds up with our backgrounds, to see if we are getting a match.”

“I was the last person to ever want to touch a computer as far as art is concerned,” recalls Church. “I studied transportation design, and it was all markers and pens and tracing paper and hands-on. But you really can’t argue with the power of a computer for commercial artwork like we’re doing, where there’s going to be a lot of revisions anyway, and the deadlines are so tight.”

Artistic Backgrounds

Church grew up surrounded by artistic influences, as his father is an industrial designer. Citing such inspirations as Syd Mead and the original art of Star Wars, Church began down the path of commercial art with the intent of being a car designer. “I was pretty focused in car design all the way until about fifth term of school when I started doing real car design, as opposed to fun, splashy concept car design. I realized that the entertainment art industry offered a lot more fun stuff to work on, instead of designing a functional product like door handles all day.”

Following the freedom that movie concept work promised, Church eventually found himself working in the Digital Features department of Industrial Light & Magic. From there, he was contacted by Iain McCaig of Episode II’s Art Department. “Iain said that they were looking for painters, illustrators and designers, and he used the term ‘Ralph McQuarrie-types.’ He said I should submit my stuff. So I did, and got a call a while after that, to come up and join the team. This is obviously the realization of a lifelong dream, since looking at the Joe Johnston sketchbooks,” recalls Church. “That’s the stuff I copied when I was a kid.”

Also inspired by Star Wars and classic movies in his youth, Tiemens studied traditional drawing and painting at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, graduating with Distinction in 1990. “I developed a deeper appreciation for the arts there, especially 19th century painting. The learning there has brought references into my film work. In the digital medium where we need to invent new things, like environments, it’s always nice to create a link to the visual past. I believe if we’re only looking at what’s been done in the past few years or so, it gets tiring to the audience. To look back on the layers of history, early photography, sculpture, painting and the arts in general gives us a more rewarding experience.”

Specific to Tiemens are influential painters like John Singer Sargent and muralist Frank Brangwyn. “They are a rich source of inspiration for me not only in their amazing skill but sense of spirit in their works, something always alive there. I can only hope to aim in that direction.”

Tiemens, too, was recommended by Iain McCaig from work the two did on an ILM project. Tiemens’ previous experiences included such films as Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, Contact, Star Wars: Special Edition and the Emmy award-nominated effects in the opening title sequence from Star Trek: Voyager.

“Last fall I was in Europe for a couple of months on a painting trip, seeking out inspiring locations,” recalls Tiemens. “I think it’s always good for artists to go out and recharge your batteries, creatively speaking. Traveling about in southern Italy at the time I found a café to check my email. I was astonished to get an email from David Dozoretz. He asked if I was interested in working on Episode II; they were looking for someone to produce dramatic environmental landscape paintings for the film.” Rick McCallum and George Lucas took a look at Tiemens’ portfolio on his personal website, and from that invited him to join the Episode II production.

Visiting five planets, the film has a lot of territory to cover in its allotted running time, and Star Wars films are not known to dawdle about in any one given location. “We’re visiting a lot of places from Episode I, but we get to see a lot more of them,” reveals Church. “We’re literally going below the surface of these locations. And there are these new worlds, just like the other Star Wars movies, with color schemes that seem to be very deliberately picked by George to reflect and mirror the story. It’s very subjective visual storytelling that supports the script.”

Artistically, Church and Tiemens are in a unique position of being able to touch the whole story — from beginning to end — with their art. “We’re covering a lot of ground,” says Tiemens. “Typically, a matte painter would spend maybe two weeks — at the shortest — or about a month or two on a complex shot. They may have a few very important shots in the film at a high degree of detail, but we’ve had the rare opportunity to go over the entire film. We view it from a global perspective in a rather short amount of time, touching on most of the environments through production illustrations. Abstract color and lighting themes are closely kept in mind.”

Concludes Tiemens, “Working on this project is similar to designing a digital feature; you try to look at the overall, in each reel, and ask yourself, ‘does this time of day support the story? How does the character feel right now? Can a busy sky with clouds compete with the actor’s somber lines?’ A million puzzles like these come up all the time. That makes for a challenge experience, full of surprises.”

Inside the Holocron – Behind the Masks

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Behind the Masks
An Interview with Jason Baird

Practical Creatures

Although many of the alien species to be seen in Episode II will be all-digital creations painstakingly animated and rendered by Industrial Light & Magic, there is still a place for practical creatures. This is where Jason Baird, Live Action Creature Effects Supervisor, enters the Episode II picture.

“That involves all the creature heads and paws,” explains Baird of his responsibilities, “as well as the animatronic creature heads and also prosthetic characters. It also involves organizing the workshop, and getting the prosthetics ready for on-set use.”

A 12-year veteran of the field, Baird ran his own company, crafting various creatures and prosthetic make-up effects for film and television. In March of 2000, Baird was recruited for the latest chapter of the Star Wars saga, with short time to prepare for one of his biggest assignments to date.

“It’s a real buzz. It took a long while for it to sink in that we’re actually working on Star Wars. It happened so quickly. Only when you see some of the big names on set, with your creatures, does it really hit you,” says Baird.

“When we first got the contract to do Star Wars it didn’t seem, from the way they were explaining it, like such a huge job,” recalls Baird. “But we quickly learned that there was quite a bit of creature and prosthetic stuff that needed to be addressed, more so from the prosthetics side because we inherited many of the Episode I creature heads. When we found that out, we had start building the crew.”

Baird’s crew grew to 12-15 artists working around the clock to deliver the required make-up effects. “The most challenging thing has been the organization — getting everything to click and be delivered in working order on time. It’s such a short time-span, because we’ve only really had, after getting set up, five weeks of pre-production. Three of those weeks were trying to get our workshop space into a workable environment. That left us only two weeks to start producing the prosthetic pieces and getting everything ready. It was a really tight timeline, but we managed.”

Among the featured creations of Baird and his crew are two new heroic Jedi alien characters. One male, one female, both these characters are prosthetic make-up creations with distinctly different builds and profiles. Both have the commanding presence of Jedi Knights and exotic alien looks.

“He’s a combination of mottled greens and browns and blacks, so I think it’ll look very cool,” says Baird, describing the alien color palette. “The female has horns as well as tentacles. She’s a combination of grays and whites and red. She should look quite stunning too.”

The decision to produce the two alien Jedi came pretty late in pre-production. For the male, Baird and his crew had three weeks to complete the character. “When you’re talking about a complicated prosthetic character, that’s a pretty short timeline.”

Prosthetic make-up creation is a painstaking process. Plaster-like life-casts must be made of the performers slated to play the role, so that the foam latex prosthetic pieces — called appliances — will conform perfectly to the contours of a his or her features. The make-up artists then glue the appliances onto the performer, adding additional elements such as teeth, horns or tentacles, and then the whole creation is painted.

Since many different appliances are pieced together for one prosthetic effect, the art of ‘seaming’ is an important one. “Once you get your foam pieces, you end up with an edge where they join,” explains Baird. “Seaming is basically trimming that edge off, and then using fillers to make those lines disappear. That way, you end up with a nice smooth surface to paint over, and you don’t see the line where the seams were. It requires practice and experience to seam properly, because if you can see a seam line on a character on film, you know you haven’t done your job. Makeup effects artists who know what to look for usually can see them. But most people can’t, because they’re usually hard to pick out.”

Makeup can be grueling to a performer, who must undergo hours of application and testing to get the perfect look. “We’d work out an initial test fitting with the prosthetics to make sure that they actually fit the actor. If they require special teeth, we take teeth casts. If they’ve got special eyes, we send them to an optometrist and they get their eyes measured and tested so that they’re safe to wear contact lenses. Then, we do our first test makeup, to make sure that all the pieces glue down right and that gets painted. We do a test fitting with teeth and contacts. This is so when we get on-set, we don’t run into any little problems that we didn’t see coming.”

The testing phase catches most problems early, though some minor glitches do sometimes occur. “During one take, one of Orn Free Taa’s contacts popped out, and he [actor Matt Rowan] actually caught it in his hand. The contacts were made slightly too flat for the curvature of his eye, which meant that it was slightly misshapen and it caught the little lip of the contact on his eyelid, so when he blinked it just popped out.” After that day’s shoot, Baird and his crew had the contacts remade, and Orn Free Taa’s eyes were restored for the next day of filming.

The Challenge of Volume

To facilitate communication, the creatures crew developed hand-signals for the actors and extras obscured with heavy masks. “They can signal by tapping their head to let us know that they need to get out,” explains Baird. For masked performers with on-screen dialogue, like the radio-controlled Senator Ask Aak or the Neimoidians, Baird has rigged a small radio to allow for communication between the actor, Baird’s crew, the Assistant Directors, and George Lucas. “They can’t talk back,” explains Baird, “but at least they can hear directions. Otherwise, it’s very hard to hear inside the suits. And when they’re up on their senate podiums, it’s very hard for us to get up there too.”

While individual aliens provide their challenges, Episode II also had the challenge of volume. Much like Episode IV’s famous cantina scene, Episode II has a nightclub filled with a variety of alien beings. Creating that exotic atmosphere within the club, as well as in the streets outside the drinking establishment, required a lot of creature masks. Baird’s task was simplified with access to many Episode I masks, but coordinating all those costumed extras was still trying.

“There’s all sorts of returning alien characters,” says Baird, “Rodians, Aqualish, Ishi Tibs, Weequays, Wookiees, ‘Mot Not Rabs’, Neimoidians and such. There’re lots of creatures and we’re doing some interesting things them to make them look like they’re female. We’re adding earrings and eyelashes and slightly different, lighter coloring in their faces, just a bit more colorful for the girls. We’ve added some freaky hairpieces to give them hair that looks a little bit more feminine than the other creatures.”

Though most of the extras’ performances don’t require anything more involved than walking or milling about in the background, wearing a hefty costume and hot, cumbersome mask makes it very difficult.

In between takes, assistants rush to aid the masked extras, offering water (with drinking straws to poke through mask openings) and miniature fans for fresh, cool air. “Keeping them hydrated and keeping their fluids up is very important because in these big costumes you sweat constantly.”

At times, the alien crowds number from 15 to 50 performers. “With 50 people wearing creature heads, you also have to account for how many people we need to look after them.” The shooting scheduled allowed for Baird to test his crew as production ramped up. The first big day required 15 creature extras. The next large assignment had 33. “That was a good test to find out what we needed,” says Baird. “For the 33, we had about 11 to 12 people standing by. It’s about a one-to-three ratio.” The assistants not only ensure the comfort of the performers, but also did quick makeup repair work on any wear-and-tear suffered by the masks.

“The ADs [Assistant Directors] really helped us out on-set,” says Baird. “They let us know when we’re about to break, or when we’re about to start again. When we know that, we know how much time we have to get ready. We’d let them know that certain characters may take five minutes or 15 minutes. We have that time to quickly get everyone’s gear back on and get them ready for camera.”

With the majority of shooting completed, Baird now waits eagerly — like many people — for the completion of the film to see the finished product. “I’m excited now to see how it all is going to come together with the computer generated imagery,” he says, “and to see the rest of the story surrounding the stuff that we shot. There are a lot of holes left to be filled.”

Inside the Holocron – Ryan Tudhope – Animatics Artist

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Ryan Tudhope – Animatics Artist

One by one, ILM is completing the Episode I final effects shots, and some of those shots had their genesis in the work of a teenager. Ryan Tudhope is a member of David Dozoretz’s animatics team, which works hard at Skywalker Ranch to provide computer-generated (CG) “pre-visualizations” for most of the shots in Episode I. Brought on to the team in 1997 at age 18 with his friend Kevin Baillie, Ryan enjoyed the unusual experience of walking from high school right into the production team of a Star Wars movie. Producer Rick McCallum had spotted Ryan and Kevin’s high school CG experiments in a documentary, and McCallum kept an eye on the two for the next year. Ryan and his colleague Kevin “worked liked crazy” developing ever-more-sophisticated shots on the computers at their school, sending periodic updates to McCallum and David Dozoretz at the Ranch. Eventually they proved their skill with the Force, and two new Jedi initiates were summoned to Lucas’ headquarters in Northern California.

Ryan wasn’t sure what to expect from his new job. “I figured that David would have us doing only the boring stuff in support of the ‘real’ animatics team. I was all set for that-I would gladly do anything to work on a Star Wars movie!” But it didn’t work out that way. “We were hardly settled into our desks when David had us working on real shots that Martin Smith and George Lucas needed downstairs in the editing suites. I couldn’t believe that we were actually handing our own work straight to the editors. It turned out that we were on the real animatics team.”

“I’d seen their earlier projects,” says animatics leader David Dozoretz, “and when they joined the team we had a ton of shots to produce, ASAP. I didn’t have time for them to mess around. I knew they were capable of really helping and contributing. Rick and I wouldn’t have brought them on board otherwise. I had them doing real shots almost immediately. Once they were settled in with the new software, I threw them into the ‘sink or swim’ production environment. From there on, it was up to them to prove themselves.”

Was it intimidating at first? “Well, yes!” admits Ryan. “It was such a huge responsibility, and there was so much work to do so quickly. But then I learned that David wanted many of the shots in fairly low detail, and I thought, ‘that will save us.’ At least they didn’t have to be perfect. Making them perfect would be handled by ILM.” Actually, the animatics team ended up doing a great many shots with strikingly high detail in the end. On a small monitor you could mistake some of them for the final film-out effects. But thinking in terms of approximations helped Ryan get through the initial shock.

The wonder of it all didn’t wear off so quickly. “It hit me every day straight in the face, for a long time, what I was actually doing. Working at Skywalker Ranch, being part of such a fantastic team, learning so much and contributing to Episode I in a direct way. Sure, we still have a lot of support work to do, it’s part of the job. But it is the most amazing thing I have ever done.”

The pressure has remained high, to produce a lot, to produce it well. “Learning new software is always a little scary. But being part of a team like this helped me get up to speed quickly and learn what I needed to.” But much of what Ryan had to learn was not about technology, but about the art of filmmaking. “I had worked so hard learning CG techniques in high school,” he recalls. “But when I came to work for Lucasfilm I learned how to use those tools in the service of film. It turned out to be about art even more than technique. We were asked to create shots that were not just slick or sophisticated, they had to work in the context of the film and specifically help to tell the story. That is probably the biggest thing I have learned here. Crafting shots for a film is about telling a story, and that is an art more than a science.”

Ryan was also involved in work for the Episode I teaser trailer recently. He was called upon “in a rush, of course,” to work out various color and flare treatments for the logo that appears out of the flames at the end. In three hours, he, like everyone else on the animatics team, had five different treatments to show. The version seen in the trailer is a composite of team efforts. What kind of storytelling went into that? “Well,” Ryan says, “sometimes it is just about making things look cool.”

Inside the Holocron – Supreme Office Space

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Designs of Ep II

Supreme Office Space

Ruling the galaxy requires elbowroom, a neatly organized work environment, and a heck of a view. Audiences got a glimpse of Senator Palpatine’s decorative tastes in his crimson-hued apartment in The Phantom Menace. In Attack of the Clones, Palpatine returns ten years later, as Supreme Chancellor, with surroundings that match his elevated political position.
“Doug Chiang asked me to give Palpatine’s headquarters an all-seeing view onto Coruscant,” recalls Concept Artist Jay Shuster, “It was an ideal theme in that it embodied who and what this man is all about.”

“People’s first impressions of the space may range from ‘Hey, this guy’s loaded,’ to ‘Nice view… that view could be corrupting,’” says Shuster. “Both reactions are valid: the design of Palpatine’s headquarters lends him an air of ‘Big Brother- hood’…as in Orwell’s 1984. Where does an ego like Palpatine’s go after he has an office space like this?”

Upon receiving Shuster’s illustrations, Production Designer Gavin Bocquet and his crew began examining the set in three-dimensions through detailed foam-core and whiteboard models.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in there,” says Bocquet. This set was almost entirely built, as opposed to some of the other environments that consisted largely of bluescreen. “We basically worked almost 360-degrees. George [Lucas] wanted us to leave maybe 10 percent of the wall out on the right as you come in. That did give us an opportunity to move the camera crane in and out through the gap.”

The set, built in Fox Studios Australia, was finished in about seven weeks. “There were a lot of finishes to be done,” explains Bocquet.

The finished textures and details required even more effort than usual thanks to the incredible resolution of the new digital cameras. “It really does pick up a lot of your middle and background detail. It’s much more unforgiving in certain instances than celluloid is. In the film world, we’re always doing things theatrically, in a way that works for the cameras. But if you’re standing there, it might not look right. With the digital camera, we had to be a more careful since things that were in the middle distance were actually showing up more as scenic work than actual finishes. We had to take our finishes a bit further than we did before.”

Inside the Holocron – Special Effects! The Episode I Virtual Paradox

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Special Effects!
The Episode I Virtual Paradox

Episode I exists in a technological paradox. It is a chapter of the Star Wars story that takes place decades before the classic Trilogy, and yet it was created two decades after the original movie. While some visual effects techniques have changed very little over the years, today’s effects specialists use many tools that didn’t even exist when audiences first sat down in darkened theaters to watch the adventures of Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion go up against the Empire. Many effects are being done far differently at the turn of the century, and onscreen results are better than they ever were. But that usually means that today’s effects also look different than their aging counterparts. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon ignite their lightsabers aboard one of the Federation Battleships.Through their work on The Phantom Menace, Industrial Light & Magic had to achieve a delicate balance between superior technology and movie continuity.

On Episode I, Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Squires and his team were responsible for the lightsaber sequences and everything that had to do with the city of Theed. So part of their work involved dealing with two effects that had been born with the original Star Wars movie: the familiar lightsaber blades, and the holograms, used as visual transmission devices.

“In Episode IV, Princess Leia calls upon Obi-Wan Kenobi for help.George Lucas liked the way the holograms looked in the previous movies,” explains Squires, “so we tried to recreate that look. The basic process involves shooting the holographic persons against either black or blue, and then isolating them. After that, the image is run through special filters to give it some transparency, to create video break-out and make it look like it has been processed.” Whereas visual effects artists normally try to make the process of their work invisible to the spectator’s eye, cleverly covering their tracks, the hologram effect is an interesting example of work done in the opposite direction. “With today’s technology,” says Squires, “ we could also make things look better, perhaps more realistic, but we need to keep it consistent through the whole series.” Seen through the hologram effect, the status of Episode I becomes doubly paradoxical. In Episode I, Darth Sidious often uses holographic projections to communicate with his accomplices. First, ILM uses advanced technology to degrade an image projection instead of enhancing it. And second, the visual effects wizards, whose digital tools would allow them to do an even better “demolition job” on the characters appearing as holograms, had to be careful not to degrade the image too much and run the risk of breaking continuity with the way holograms looked in the classic Trilogy. “Today, the hologram effect is done digitally,” says Squires. “But for the classic movies, the technique was quite different. They would shoot the character, then play the footage on a video screen, and shoot the video screen. This would already create some distortion and noise – but they added to it by having someone loosen the plug or shake the equipment around.” This inventive method made the image on the video screen appear degraded. Which it was.

Another classic effect, that of the lightsaber blades, also had to be kept just the way it had been established in the previous Star Wars movies, despite the leaps and bounds enjoyed by digital technology since A New Hope. “We could have done something much more elaborate, much more exotic,” Squires says, “but once again we simply had to respect continuity.” So even though the blades of the laser swords are no longer painted by hand, one frame after another, the digital artists have done all they could to retain the look and feel associated with the lightsabers of Skywalker father and son and Obi-Wan Kenobi, both at rest and in motion.

Luke ignites his lightsaber for the first time. In the first Star Wars movie, a scene where a lightsaber was ignited needed to be achieved in a least two shots, because the lightsaber handle had to be replaced with another handle fitted with a solid “blade” covered with reflective tape. In Empire and Jedi, lightsabers being ignited would have their blades hand-drawn at the end of the handles, while in Episode I igniting lightsabers were given their blades through computer graphics. The same techniques were brought into play to “doctor” the fighting sequences, were the metal rods used in lieu of laser blades were optically or digitally replaced. The technique used to generate the glowing, diffused light of a lightsaber – and many other visual effects – is called rotoscoping. Rotoscoping has been used throughout the Star Wars saga and is in fact one of the most essential tools at the disposal of the visual effects artists. Moving from the optical realm to the digital sphere, the art of rotoscoping is a perfect example of visual effects technology evolving as it should: right under the spectators’ noses without them noticing any seam in the transition.

Visual effects artists use rotoscoping to track a visual element they need to modify, remove, or add to a sequence. Developed in 1917 by animation pioneer Max Fleischer, rotoscoping remained virtually unchanged for seventy-five years. Traditionally, visual effects artists would use the rotoscope, a high-perched camera/projector combination looking straight down at a flat work surface, to project scenes from a movie, frame by frame. One of ILM’s rotoscopes, as used by artist Barbara Brennan in the early ’80s.On each frame, they would trace by hand the elements to be worked on, creating a series of cells used as guidelines to indicate where the special effects needed to go. For the lightsaber blades, for instance, rotoscoping experts traced the “stick” blade of each prop lightsaber, showing the animators exactly where the blue, red and green glows needed to be positioned. Once the blades had been created as separate elements, they would be optically added to the live-action images.

With the computer, things are different. Now rotoscoping is accomplished within the digital realm, and new tools have been developed to speed up the process. “Nowadays you can indicate to the computer that your elbow and arm are here,” says Squires, “and that you want these two elements traced. Digital rotoscoping then allows you to tell the computer that ten frames later the elements are over there, and the computer will go ahead and generate everything in between the two positions.” Once the guidelines have been established for each frame, computer animators step in and create the effects that will be later added to the original footage. Everything is now digital, but the technique remains surprisingly similar to what it has always been. And through better technology and special effects techniques stepping from the physical world into the virtual one, ILM strives to remain true to the classic look of the Star Wars saga. “For things like the lightsabers, we’ll put in the glow and the shimmer, and when they cross we’ll add a flash and all the other details that fans are used to,” Squires says. “But no matter what the technology is or becomes, we’ll always remain consistent within the Star Wars universe.”

The George Lucas Super Live Adventure

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Along time ago, in the Land of the Rising Sun.

In 1991, an up-and-coming stage manager named Scott Faris took a phone call from Kenneth Feld, whose Feld Entertainment ran the so-called Greatest Show on Earth, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The year before, Faris had been instrumental in helping Feld Entertainment open Siegfried & Roy’s magic show in Las Vegas, which cost a record-setting $28 million to produce.This phone call was not about Siegfried & Roy.

“Hey, this Lucas thing’s happening,” Feld said. “Come up and meet with me.”

Faris gave notice at his current theatrical production. A few weeks later, he flew to Oakland, rented a car, and drove to Skywalker Ranch in San Rafael, California. There he toured Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic with Feld and a group of Japanese businessmen. The party ended up in a boardroom with about a dozen members of Lucasfilm, where Feld took charge. After a day of sightseeing, it was time to talk about why they’d all gathered together.

“The show’s got to be an arena show, and the show has to be two acts, and it has to involve the audience,” Faris remembers Feld saying matter-of-factly. No one else in the room spoke.

“I thought ‘Okay, what the hell? I’ll pick up the ball,’ ” Faris remembers. “I said, ‘what I think we should do is find a way to tie together all of George’s films.’ ” Pens rustled on notepads. Again, no one spoke. So Faris kept talking. “I’m going to create an assignment for you Lucas guys and for myself,” he said. And then he laid out the simple instructions that would soon inspire the most bizarre celebration of Lucas’ films this side of the Stars Wars Holiday Special: “We’re going to watch the Lucas films, all of them, from five different points of view. What is the thematic high point, the special effects high point, musical high point, comedic high point, and [most memorable] action sequence. I’ll fly back to San Rafael in a week and I’ll meet up with you guys.”

Everyone was on board. With that, the meeting was over. They all went out to dinner. And for the next two years, Scott Faris spearheaded what Kenneth Feld casually referred to as the “Lucas thing,” hiring and directing more than 100 cast and crew for an arena production eventually titled George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure. Japanese TV companies ponied up $25 million dollars to finance the production. Faris dreamed up a script that combined Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Willow, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, and American Graffiti.

In April 1993, George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure opened to a crowd of more than 10,000 in the Yokohama Arena in Japan. The show toured Japan for five months.

And yet, 20 years later, almost no one has heard of, or remembers, the Super Live Adventure. It persists only in the minds of the Japanese children who once saw the show live, and few remnants–newspaper archives, blurry VHS recordings, tacky merchandise–survive to preserve its memory.

How could such an enormous production, based on some of the most popular films ever made, drift into obscurity?

How could such an enormous production, based on some of the most popular films ever made, drift into obscurity? It was elaborately produced, even for an arena show, with an elevated stage 60 feet across, a pair of giant screens showing 70mm projections of Lucas’ films, hand-fired lasers, and a full-scale inflatable Millennium Falcon landing on stage for the finale.

In a single night’s entertainment Willow defeated General Kael, Luke vanquished Vader, the rebels destroyed the Death Star, Nazis unleashed the Ark of the Covenant, and Indiana Jones wrestled with a live tiger. This is the story of how it all happened, how it almost didn’t, and why, 20 years on, barely a trace of George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure remains.

From Lucas Film to Lucas Live

Scott Faris worked for Kenneth Feld Productions on Siegfried & Roy from 1989 to 1990. It was far from his first job in the theater business, but it was a career-changing one. And what a show it was–the production included “75 tons of scenery, the most sophisticated and powerful lighting system ever created, and [a] six-story-high computerized dragon, spitting smoke and flames.” Even in a town built on neon and decadence, Siegfried & Roy’s $28 million production burned blindingly bright. In one famous act, Roy rides atop a white tiger which is standing on a disco ball that hangs suspended above the stage.

To ensure the massive production opened on time, Faris took on on more and more responsibilities. “A lot of it fell into my lap and I was kind of the guy that made that show open,” Faris remembers. He started talking to Kenneth Feld, who would come to Vegas once a month to check up on the show. During one of those conversations, Faris asked for advice on producing a show of his own. He wanted to move up the ladder.

“I’ve got a show,” Feld said. “With George Lucas. Are you interested in that?” Faris’ answer? Hell yes. He leapt at the chance. In 1990, however, there was no George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure. Not yet. There was just the potential for something.

“Kenneth was at the peak of his form,” Faris remembers. “He had brought the circus back to life. There was a big article about him in Time. The Lucas people came to him and said the 20th anniversary of Lucasfilm is going to happen in [1991], and we want to do something for George to celebrate it.”

Feld proposed an arena show, and he knew how to pay for it. He’d established Japanese connections a few years before with a successful Siegfried & Roy tour in Tokyo, so he arranged for Japanese broadcast companies NTV, YTV, and Nagoya finance the Lucas production. Everything was ready to go.

Then, in August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, instigating the Gulf War. “Everybody stopped investing,” Faris says. “The Japanese economy kind of went crazy and the Japanese were put on the spot and donated to this war effort, the coalition effort. Everything investment-wise froze in Japan so the thing just disappeared.”

A year later, out of the blue, Faris got the call from Kenneth Feld. The “Lucas thing” was back on.

As he promised, Faris spent the week after that first Lucasfilm meeting diligently watching the movies and taking notes. But when he returned with ideas for the production, no one else had done anything. “I started going through all my notes and nobody offered up any ideas,” Faris says. “I walked away from the meeting and called Kenneth and said ‘You know what, these guys just want to be contracted as a division of Lucas Entertainment to create the show. I don’t think that’s right. I think we can create it ourselves.”

Inspired by Lucas’ use of the Hero with a Thousand Faces, Faris decided to create a character whose fate would be intertwined with the adventures of each film.

Feld said: Great. Go do it. Faris isolated the thematic high points of all of the films and came up with a way to connect them all together. Inspired by Lucas’ use of the Hero with a Thousand Faces, he decided to create a character whose fate would be intertwined with the adventures of each film. When writing Star Wars, Lucas had turned to the narrative structure outlined in Joseph Campbell’s The Magic of Myth, which sees a hero answering the call to adventure, undergoing trials, and eventually succeeding in a quest. Some of Star Wars’ key plot points, like Luke’s initial refusal to leave Tatooine, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s supernatural aid, Luke’s meeting with Princess Leia, and his rescue by Han Solo all closely follow the Hero’s Journey.

Super Live Adventure’s central character ended up being a young Japanese-American actress, who would sit in the audience and “randomly” be plucked from her seat at the start of each show. The girl, named Hiromi, traveled through Lucas’ film worlds with the aid of a magic wand, seeking a hero to fight the powers of evil. In the end, of course, Hiromi discovers that she was the hero all along.

After Lucasfilm gave Faris’ proposed story the green light, he brought on writer Roberts Gannaway to turn his stew of Lucas stories into an arena-worthy extravaganza. The script they eventually concocted not only scrambled together Lucas’ films, it blended elements from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies into half-recognizable amalgamations. When the auditorium lights raised at the start of each show in the summer of 1993, an audience of thousands of Lucas diehards were treated to familiar film clips of their favorite silver screen moments. What followed, however, could get a little–well, strange.

A Hero’s Journey

A draft of Gannaway’s GLSLA script dated January 26, 1993 begins with an exuberant description of the show’s opening moments. “Abstract SOUND EFFECTS – the SCREECH of an exotic beast, the ROAR of a Tie fighter, etc. – reverberate through the auditorium, heightening anticipation and hinting at the marvelous things to come. Each of the large screens displays the ‘George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure’ logo.”

“A swiftly edited series of Lucasfilm highlights accompanied by a trumpeting medley of the most MEMORABLE THEMES,” the script continues. “It’s a thrilling, breathtaking, even humorous collection of similar moments from the different films, and all the Lucas heroes…”

After the opening film montage–which includes clips of Lucas himself directing and working with scale models, just to make sure the fourth wall is good and broken–an actor playing Willow enters from the back of the auditorium and hands a small bundle to Hiromi, who is sitting in the audience. Faris recalls the show’s opening moments beat-by-beat.

“He runs up on stage and he’s confronted by the evil General Kael from the Willow movie,” says Faris. “Willow’s frozen with fear and the general comes up on horseback on this giant black Friesian, beautiful Friesian horse, and he climbs down, takes out his broadsword, and he chops Willow in two. And he ends up with only a cloak. It was a great effect.

“[Kael] gets back on his horse and rides off and Willow’s discovered out in the house, and he grabs the girl and pulls her out and brings her up on stage and she’s got a baby. And that’s the baby that the evil queen in Willow wants. This is the setup of the whole show. He brings her up on stage and suddenly they’re visited by this spirit, this fairy that appeared in Willow, and she speaks to them and says ‘We’re looking for a hero to protect us. There’s a dark force coming. And you’ve been chosen to find that hero. Take this wand’–and magically this wand appears. ‘And use it on your journey. It will help you.’ ”

Massive set changes, which regularly exchange one set of towering scenery for another, allow Hiromi and her magic wand to travel through Lucas’ films worlds, some emphasizing grand setpiece moments over familiar narratives. A looming castle with a working drawbridge dominates the Willow set. In the world of American Graffiti, dancers dressed in their best 1950s sock hop outfits twirl across the stage as a giant jukebox towers 15 feet above their heads.

When the lights go up on Indiana Jones’ segment, the action moves from a suspension bridge dangling high above the stage, to Hong Kong’s Club Obi-Wan (complete with giant dragon backdrop), to the Ark of the Covenant. Along the way, Indiana Jones’ nemesis Belloq tries to steal Hiromi’s magic wand, Indy battles a tiger, and the famous face-melting finale to Raiders of the Lost Ark gets its due as Belloq opens the Ark.

“After this moment of beauty, the angelic voices melt into a foreboding chorus of INHARMONIOUS MOANS,” reads the script. “Without warning, a sheet of fire and smoke consumes the altar, blotting Belloq from view. We hear his blood-curdling SCREAM and can practically smell the stench of burning flesh. Then a gust of wind sweeps the smoke away, revealing Belloq’s toasted skeleton!”

In each world, Hiromi gets her own heroic moment, building up to the feel-good final reveal that she was the pure-of-heart hero the world needed all along. The script describes these moments with a childlike excitement as if it, too, is surprised by every twist and turn. When Indy is trapped under a statute as the Ark’s temple set falls to pieces, she saves the day. “Without a split-second to lose, Hiromi plucks the wand off the staff, aims, and wishes!” reads the script. “A beam of light bursts from the wand and connects with the statue. The sculpture’s fall is halted…and it wavers in mid-air! It’s as if Hirmoi is holding the statue up with a single beam of light! An awestruck Indy frees his leg and dives to safety.” Hiromi, of course, is blissfully unaware of her heroism, evne when Indy “pops his hat onto Hiromi’s head” and says “I think you’re the hero around here.”

The Star Wars segment is the most elaborate of them all, combining Jabba’s palace, the Mos Eisley Cantina, and a Death Star poised to destroy a Rebel base. Admiral Ackbar delivers a dramatic speech to a crew of Rebel pilots, but not before bowing in typical Japanese fashion. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader battle with lightsabers across the Death Star set, but it is eventually Hiromi who saves the day with Luke’s lightsaber.

Like the Indiana Jones segment, GLSLA’s Star Wars finale combines the Death Star of A New Hope with the climax of Return of the Jedi, blending the threat to the rebel base with the death of the Emperor–this time it’s Vader who gets thrown down an energy shaft–and Jedi’s climactic space battle. But most of the iconic images from the films actually show up on stage, including Jabba and a life-size Millenium Falcon. Super Live Adventure’s script can’t truly convey the scale of the production, or its quirks; the way the Japanese audio and the actors’ exaggerated motions don’t quite line up, lending the show a slight Power Rangers feel. Or the way combining classic film scenes and brand new ones, like Indiana Jones facing off against a sleepy, disinterested tiger, feels a bit like big-budget fan fiction.

As conceptually absurd as the production is, the scale of the sets, stunts, and special effects is even harder to believe. It took a cast and crew of more than 100 to make George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure work, and nearly two years passed between Faris’ initial meeting with Lucasarts and the premiere in Japan.

Before Hiromi could embark on her Hero’s Journey–before she even had a name–Faris spent months finding his crew. Then, together, they spent an entire year figuring out how to bring Lucas’ fantasies, originally built with scale models and post-production special effects, to live audiences.

Inflatables, Laser Beams, Fantastical Things

Super Live Adventure would need a production designer who could build big.

Scott Faris’ first hire, before there was even a script for GLSLA, was production designer Douglas Schmidt. Faris knew about Schmidt due to his work on 1981’s Broadway production of Frankenstein. At the time, the $2 million dollar production had been the most expensive Broadway show of all time, and the play infamously closed after a single performance. Schmidt’s grandiose sets weren’t to blame, and Super Live Adventure would need a production designer who could build big.

“Once Doug was on board, Doug and I went on this research phase,” Faris says. “We just flew around the country seeing concerts. If somebody had indoor pyro, we’d go see if. It somebody was using video in some amazing way, we’d go see it. Whatever tickled our fancy, we’d go see, and we’d see how we could work some variation of that into the show.”

Schmidt, who still works as a theatrical production designer from his studio in San Francisco, remembers getting a call about the show and being on the next plane to Burbank, where Faris kept an office.

“We had nothing–a big pile of Xerox paper to start with,” Schmidt says. “The first thing that I did was arrange a sitdown talk with the folks at Lucas. Mercifully they’re right in the neighborhood. I was able to get access to their archives, which was fabulous. It was like a kid in a candy store. Just to hold those Ralph McQuarrie sketches in your hand, just pull open these drawers and see this whole movie in pictures, painted and imagined, it was truly cool.”

While Schmidt researched Lucas’ films for inspiration, Faris hired more key staff members for the production, including scriptwriter Gannaway, his regular collaborator Jonathan Deans as sound designer, and former My Three Sons actor-turned-musician Don Grady as composer. He hired a Hollywood stunt coordinator to handle stunt rigging and editor Dustin Ebsen to assemble the film clips that would supplement the stage performances. The Super Live Adventure production eventually held auditions in New York and Los Angeles and even Orlando, where stuntmen congregated for gigs at Disney World and Universal Studios.

As the production designer, Douglas Schmidt was responsible for directing the visual look of the entire show. In smaller theatrical productions, the production designer may handle scenery, lighting, and even costumes, directly overseeing nearly every production department. On Super Live Adventure, lighting, lasers, sound, and costumes were such enormous undertakings, they all had their own leads. It still took the entirety of 1992 to put the show together.

“There were all kinds of physical problems to deal with,” says Schmidt. “If you look at those movies, and you look at the research materials, everything’s huge. Couldn’t possibly be bigger. Somehow we had to figure out a way to make all of that user friendly enough that we could get it first to Japan, then tour it, because once we got it to Japan it was going to go to three or four different cities.”

Schmidt had long wanted to try inflatable sculptures as set elements, and Lucas’ grandiose movies offered the perfect opportunity. Some of Super Live’s key set pieces–the Chinese dragon from Temple of Doom’s Club Obi Wan, a gigantic jukebox inspired by American Graffiti, and Jabba from Star Wars, were all inflatables. Each inflatable started as a half-inch scale clay model which was then painted with latex. Once the latex dried, it was carefully cut off the model, flattened out, scanned, and digitally enlarged to the appropriate size. While there’s a telltale bulge to the inflatables up close, from an arena seat, the massive props were impressively enormous and realistic.

Larger Than Life Inflatables, still in business in San Diego, made the blow-up scenery. Both Faris and Schmidt say that they’ve never seen another theatrical production use inflatables on the same scale. A full-scale Millenium Falcon–or rather, the front half of one–dwarfed them all. The balloon wasn’t quite spaceworthy, though it was based on the original schematics used to design the external set that appears in The Empire Strikes Back.

“It was [mounted on] a steel framework and onboard fans kept the thing inflated,” Schmidt says. “These big doors opened up and from way way way upstage the spaceship comes down towards you and is landing, and then a ramp comes down and all the people come out.” (In reality, fog machines and dry ice obscured the ramp lowering from the steel truss, and actors walked out from behind the ramp.) With the inflatables, Schmidt was able to match Lucas’ sense of scale, and between shows the blow-up stage elements could be deflated, packed into boxes, and carted around with ease.

Many of the sets were constructed from more traditional materials, like the bridge that Indiana Jones fought across; stuntmen and acrobats would have to fall from the wood-and-rope bridge, through smoke obscuring the stage, and into trapdoors hidden in the floor. The temple housing the Ark of the Covenant was reproduced in sculpted foam, and its giant statues would crash to the ground as Indy and Hiromi made their escape. Lucasfilm loaned the production a real Tucker automobile from the 1988 film.

Schmidt designed a raised stage a massive 60 feet in diameter, which could accommodate subterranean elements like trap doors, fog machines, and spears that would pop up to get stabby with Indiana Jones. The backstage area, which also had to be raised, was twice the size. Schmidt also designed a grid that hung over the stage, which actors would repel down from 462 lights bathed the set in a rainbow of colors. The stage was constructed by Tait Towers, known for supplying lighting grids, stages and other pieces of equipment for enormous rock concerts. Their recent portfolio includes the London 2012 Olympics Ceremony and Madonna’s MDNA tour.

Costume designer Frank Krenz and Kenneth Feld’s prop shop produced more than 400 costumes for GLSLA, including Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, the aliens from the Star Wars cantina, and more than a few sets of Stormtrooper armor.

Other companies were brought in to supply the sound system, rock concert-caliber lighting, pyrotechnics, lasers, and wild animals (two tigers, two horses, and four dogs). Don Grady based his score on the original music from Lucas’ films, then flew to London to record it with the Royal Philharmonic, the same orchestra that played for John Williams.

Sound designer Jonathan Deans recalls that all of the sound effects came on hard drives from Skywalker Ranch. The screams of the TIE fighters, laser zaps, and lightsaber clashes were straight from the movies. Due to the storage limitations of the time, nearly every scene in Super Live Adventure had its sound files stored on a separate drive.

“We actually developed equipment for the show,” Deans says. “We created a console that could [control] 15 tracks…The audio was digital on the hard drives, but at the time there were no digital consoles. The console, the LCS console–the next [iteration] of that console became digital and actually was the first digital console to be used in live entertainment. So it was just pre-[digital], by a very short time, that it existed.”

And, of course, there were the lasers, which would likely be replaced by LEDs in a modern production–safer and cheaper, but nowhere near as flashy. For the duel between Luke and Darth Vader, the laser technicians created lightsaber by trapping laser beams within tubes.

“The budget for lasers was outrageous,” Scott Faris says. “We did things that had never been tried or were not even legal, and we found ways to get them approved. Hand-fired lasers had never been used in that way before, but we had to have it for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo shooting it out with the stormtroopers. And our laser guys worked out a system of interlocking safeties so an infrared beam would target on the chest of a stormtrooper and when it got positive feedback it would fire the laser, and when the laser fired a squib charge would go off on the stormtrooper, and he’d fall and die. It looked just like the movies.”

By February 1993, George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure was coming together. Feld found an empty arena in North Carolina where the production could set up and rehearse. And rehearse. And rehearse. “We were [there] for two months,” Schmidt says. “Two months in Charlotte. We got it together. We had a show at the end.”

After two months of rehearsal, it was time to ship cast, crew, costumes, sets, and stage to Japan. As the premiere date of Super Live Adventure drew closer, the Japanese financiers prepared to take advantage of something even more popular in Japan than the Star Wars films–George Lucas himself.

Big in Japan

A thin, early-40s Lucas with the first hints of gray in his beard was the face of Panasonic.

In 1987, Matsushita Electric–now known as Panasonic–began a Japanese ad campaign called Something New. A thin, early-40s Lucas with the first hints of gray in his beard was the face of the campaign. Commercials and print ads were created in the US at ILM, with props and models from Star Wars making regular appearances. ILM even built a robot mascot named Sparky for Matsushita that was designed by artist Ralph McQuarrie.

The Matsushita campaign swept advertising awards in the late 1980s. By 1993, when Super Live Adventure made its premiere, Lucas was no longer starring in the ads, but the cult of celebrity was already established. His face had been all over Japan for years.

Alongside his role of producer and director for Super Live Adventure, Faris found himself also producing a giant press conference ahead of the premiere.

“They wanted to interview [Lucas] for Japanese TV so they said I should go up and ask George the questions,” Faris says. He met Lucas at Skywalker Ranch briefly during during production in ’92, then flew to Japan to hold the press conference at the Akasaka Prince hotel in Tokyo. Tokyo Disney loaned Faris C-3PO and R2-D2, and they brought in 20 sets of stormtrooper armor and a Darth Vader costume created for Super Live Adventure.

“That all led up to George walking in through a giant laser tunnel,” he says. “It was outrageous. There were like a thousand journalists. Then, after that, the coolest thing ever: They got us lunch and took us to a private room and George and I just shot the shit…I’m telling you it was absolute heaven for me. I was a total Star Wars geek myself, and working in theatre, which had nothing to do with film, but I just loved film. I remember [when Return of the Jedi came out] and there was a big announcement in Variety. I said ‘I’m going to work with George Lucas.’ And 12 years later I met him.”

Months after his huge press conference, Faris returned to Japan ahead of the rest of the production and supervised the the voice cast that dubbed the show into Japanese. All audio in the production, from music to sound effects to dialogue, was pre-recorded. The Japanese actors who originally dubbed Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lucas’ other films all lent their voices to Super Live Adventure. The American actors had to pantomime the entire show, as all of their practice performances in Charlotte had been in English.

Other than the dubbing, little of the production was catered to the Japanese audience. “[The TV companies] wanted me originally to use a Japanese fight choreographer, and maybe I should’ve,” Faris says. “That would’ve been a good thing, because their swordsmanship was unbelievable. But at the time I was committed to a guy from the theatre who was a broadsword expert…I don’t remember, other than them feeling like they wanted to have a say in it, that there was anything that wasn’t happening.”

On April 27, 1993, George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure debuted in Yokohama.

Doug Schmidt remembers a huge audience at the premiere–and a strange one, to Americans unaccustomed to Japanese etiquette. “The audience response was so muted we thought, ‘Do they hate it?’ We got nothin’. Nothin’ during the show. No applause, no oohs, no ahhs, nothin’. They might as well have been dummies sitting there. Then at the end, they went crazy, they loved it! But nothing during the show, which threw everybody. We didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

Lucas, at least to Faris’ recollection, loved the show; he later brought his daughters to see it in Osaka.

Faris remembers sitting in the royal box with his wife and George Lucas, who returned to Japan to watch the premiere. Lucas, at least to Faris’ recollection, loved the show; he later brought his daughters to see it in Osaka.

Through spring and summer, Super Live Adventure toured Japan’s arenas, drawing big crowds at each location. As it toured, Feld flew over American entertainment bigwigs in hopes of setting up a US tour. The production sold mounds of merchandise to help recoup costs.

But by the end of Japan’s summer, the show was finished, packed up, and shipped home for storage. It’s been fading into obscurity ever since, begging a question that’s difficult to answer today: was George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure actually any good?

The Show Goes On, Until It Doesn’t

“We were so proud of it,” Scott Faris says. “It was so much fun. We explored things that hadn’t been done and everybody on the creative team was just into it. They were ready to try anything and make it work.”

During one show–maybe opening night–one of the show’s generators exploded.

Faris and his crew pulled off a technological feat with Super Live Adventure, but that technology suffered its share of technical problems. Faris, Schmidt, and sound designer Jonathan Deans all remember one disaster differently. According to Deans, there were multiple generators in trucks parked outside the arena, which were used to provide extra power necessary for the show. During one show–maybe opening night–one of those generators exploded.

“It actually blew up,” Deans says. “Parts of the generator flew out of the truck and landed on other cars parked in the car park. It was just as Mad Martigan in Willow was about to have his head cut off.”

The generator’s explosion fried every MIDI chip in the sound system, which they used to send commands between audio devices. Deans and his team had to trigger and mix all of the sound effects and music manually. On other nights, the projectors refused to send the proper timing signature to the audio gear, causing sound to regularly cut out as film clips were being played–and to come back on with a deafening explosion.

Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt during the production, though a forum post from a former cast member recalls “numerous cast members rotated out of the show due to injuries, me included.”

The scariest incident–and the funniest in retrospect–came during rehearsal in North Carolina, when one of the tigers escaped from its trainer. Deans remembers the tiger being freaked out by a shiny gold prop for the Indiana Jones segment, attacking it, and running loose. The tiger, he says, was “really fucking pissed.”

The escaped tiger was “really fucking pissed.”

Scott Faris elaborates: “We hear, suddenly, over the [loudspeaker]: ‘Please close the doors. The tiger is loose.’ And you just see people running and slamming doors. I remember one person in the office, this would be in the interior of the arena where all the dressing rooms are…this one office person calling us on the phone saying ‘Um, the tiger just walked by me in the passageway…’ Nobody got eaten, but that was a huge bit of excitement there in the early days.”

Still, neither safety nor reliability were seriously detrimental to the show’s brief run. All productions of that scale are going to have their problems. Ultimately, if George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure had a critical weakness, it was the story.

“Very sweet. Very cheesy. This show would NOT have gone over well in America AT ALL!” writes the same former cast member on a Star Wars fan forum. Schmidt says the story wasn’t a strong point, and that ultimately he didn’t think the show could’ve sustained a permanent stint in Las Vegas. Faris, however, whose position as supervising producer put him closer to Feld, says there was ample interest in bringing the show to the United States.

“People were after us when they heard about the show,” he said. “We were going to set up permanently at Universal Studios in Florida. Vegas wanted us. There was a lot of excitement after the Japanese run. Kenneth wanted to do a tour. But the one mistake we made was we built Doug’s massive deck–the tech department built it out of heavy steel scaffolding that you’d put up around a building to repair it. Very time consuming to set up and very heavy to transport.”

The Super Live Adventure stage simply took too long to assemble and disassemble to support a brisk US touring schedule. Sadly, right around the same time Tait Towers built the stage, they also developed a new rolling stage for rock concerts. Rolling arena stages could be set up in one part of the arena while lighting and sound were hung from the ceiling, then wheeled into place, effectively cutting setup time in half. But too much money had already been sunk into the Super Live Adventure stage. They couldn’t ditch it and build a new one.

Selling the show to US executives was already an uphill battle, since everyone that Feld brought to Japan had to watch the show in Japanese. Talks never panned out. But the show didn’t entirely die away, at first. For a time, people remembered it.

“My next show after that was EFX and it opened the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas,” Faris says. “One of the CEOs of one of the theaters called me and said, ‘I heard about your Lucas show. Can you put it in my theatre?’…I went down and looked and I said, ‘You know what, it’s not high enough. The ceiling’s not high enough. We can’t fit the scenery in.’ You know, the temple for Indiana Jones was like 30 feet high, and our grid was another 10 feet over that.’ ”

After its Japanese run, Super Live Adventure went into storage at a Feld Entertainment warehouse. Doug Schmidt tried to rent certain set pieces from the production multiple times over the years, but could never gain access to them. His contacts at the company demurred; It would’ve been too costly, or time-consuming, to dig pieces out of storage. When he last tried, about a decade ago, the costumes and props and one-of-a-kind inflatables were gone.

They’d been taking up too much space. Feld Entertainment threw everything away.

A Vision of the Future

Twenty years after its one and only summer tour, the last pieces of George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure that remain are souvenirs and memorabilia, the merchandise sold to Japanese audiences during the short tour. And there was a lot of merchandise, ranging from popcorn buckets to mugs, hand towels, lightsabers, keychains, and Darth Vader voice manipulators. Japanese parents were encouraged to buy their children merch; this even gets a minor mention in Gannaway’s script, when the intermission describes the audience doing “the sort of things audiences do during intermissions: bathroom, concessions, souvenirs, etc…”

Much of the art on the George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure’s merchandise looks just a little off. A Yoda doll is just slightly too rotund and ugly. A bag printed with the art from the official poster transforms iconic faces into cartoonish caricatures. A hand towel sporting the logos from each film represented in the show looks like it could’ve been put together with clip art.

Other pieces are genuinely cool, and even a little awe-inspiring, like the poster of George Lucas, staring straight ahead in a pair of aviators, presented in an orange-tinged silhouette. In his San Francisco studio, Doug Schmidt still has the show’s official poster, which combines everything from Willow to Star Wars into one image, mounted above his drafting table. That poster manages to capture the essence of the classic hand-painted posters for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, deftly avoiding the campiness of Super Live’s other memorabilia.

Despite the eclectic variety of merch available at the arena show, there were even more designs for pieces that were never made. Feld Entertainment likely made the right call in abandoning the Darth Vader tissue box, but it may have missed out on a hit with the chibi Chewbacca backpack. Sadly, if the props, inflatables, and other set elements of Super Live Adventure hadn’t been thrown away, they’d be coveted by diehard Star Wars collectors today.

Even video evidence of the show is scarce. Neither Faris or Schmidt know if the production was ever recorded by the Japanese broadcasters or aired on television. Footage shot from the audience exists–you can find it on Youtube–but you’ll be hard pressed to see the details of Schmidt’s sets or Krenz’s costumes.

Were George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure to return today, it may have the legs to tour across the world. While Lucas himself is moving into retirement, Star Wars may be bigger than ever. The series is, at the very least, far bigger than it was in 1993, when Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn novels were breathing new life into a dormant franchise. But could Star Wars ever spawn another weird hodgepodge like Super Live Adventure?

Faris believes so. “I was out in Vegas working on a show last month and looking at all these crazy shows around Vegas…and I thought, man, that Lucas show would’ve worked today,” he says.

“Man, that Lucas show would’ve worked today.”

Jonathan Deans feels the same. “To do that show now would be stunning,” he adds. “All the technology, we could do that easily now, in every aspect. Technology has grown up and we’d be able to do that in our sleep almost. But of course, we’d make it a lot better.”

With the Disney empire now behind Lucasfilm, a new arena show celebrating Lucasfilm’s legacy doesn’t sound so outlandish. After all, Star Wars’ 40th anniversary is coming up in 2017.

And Lucas has always enjoyed a spectacle. As that extravagant Japanese press conference wrapped up in Tokyo before GLSLA’s tour, after Lucas’ lunch with Scott Faris and a day devoted to endless interviews, the creator of Star Wars gave the director of Super Live Adventure one piece of advice.

“He said, ‘Hey, have a great show, and just remember: do what I do,’ ” Faris remembers. “I said ‘Yeah, what’s that?’ And he said, ‘Save the big explosion for the end.”

by Wesley Fenlon 

Inside the Holocron – Huttese as a Second Language

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Despite all the technological wonders at the disposal of today’s sound designers, most sound effects begin their life as recordings of organic sources. In order to record sound for special scenes in Episode I, Star Wars veteran Sound Designer Ben Burtt and Recordist Matthew Wood invited a group of “vocal extras” to become an alien community for one night.

Computers and synthesizers are powerful tools, but a finished sound effect is seldom purely artificial: most of the time, a “real” sound is first recorded, then modified using computers and synthesizers. Even the voice of R2-D2, a mechanical droid character, was achieved through the combination of electronic tones and human vocal chords.

For Episode I, Ben Burtt faces new challenges. Particular scenes require particular effects, and his vast sound library is not always enough to answer every need. “In every movie,” says Burtt, “there are always a few scenes or elements that can’t be matched to anything you have in your sound library, because they’re so specific. You have to go out and record entirely new samples.” Some of these specific sequences in Episode I involve environments where many alien creatures will be present together, and a convincing “crowd effect” needed to be created. To that end, Burtt assembled a group of “vocal extras” on January 14th for a special project.

This group of fifty was brought together in the Stag Theater at Skywalker Ranch, where the acoustics are especially suited to this type of “atmosphere” recording. Burtt proceeded to seat his volunteers properly so that there would be no gap in the sound field, and gave them some advice on how to avoid making accidental noises during the recording. “It’s amazing what the microphone can pick up,” says Burtt. “The rustle of a leather jacket, the soft clinging of two rings touching each other, the jingling of earrings – everything.”

Then Burtt started turning the group into an audio sample from planet Tatooine. For each take, Burtt explained the effect he was looking for, how he wanted to achieve it, and gave specific directions. “Imagine you’re in a busy marketplace on a foreign planet, and you hear all sorts of alien creatures around you, discussing among themselves, bartering for an item, or telling jokes…” The performers would improvise an alien language of their own and get going, chatting with their neighbors and exchanging words no one could make sense of. Some individuals particularly educated in Star Wars lore even spoke a few words of actual Huttese, the language used by the crime lord Jabba the Hutt. “Everybody gets to be the sound designer tonight,” says Burtt with a smile. However he adds a warning: “It’s important not to use English at all, or any other real language, because actual words might be recognized. We need something totally alien for the background crowds – the movie doesn’t take place on the planet Earth. Huttese is welcome, of course.”

Gesturing like an orchestra conductor, Burtt directed his choir: more or less volume, a calmer ambiance, an electrified atmosphere, and so on. Using the final sound effect in his head as a guide, Burtt was effectively starting to mold and sculpt the sounds during the recording process itself. Burtt tried several different things, from having just one row of people perform, to sweeping across the group with his hands and making the “aliens” speak up in sequence. “I try to get a variety of audio textures and different depths,” Burtt says. This way, Burtt will be able to combine different samples together and obtain just the right effect for every scene. “We did go out and record a crowd during a football game,” says Burtt. “We collected good recordings, which will be used to create the backdrop to a massive crowd setting. But this procedure only gives you a generic crowd ambiance. For more specific material, you have to use a smaller, directed group, like this.”

The alien assembly went from one take to the other, speaking a thousand tongues and uttering mysterious words. “Picture yourselves with scales on your back or webbed feet…Imagine you’re at a big sporting event and that something awful just happened on the field…Imagine that you’re in your alien home village, and that something unexpected suddenly caused total panic…” Like a painter, Burtt splashed colors here and there, slowly creating the aural portrait of a breathing, living alien community. Building the same effects from scratch with a computer, using, say, one voice multiplied 50 times, would have been much more complicated and time-consuming, and might never have achieved the same convincing, organic effect. Also, the physical presence of the performers produced genuine interaction, which helped to create the illusion of a true group of aliens gathered together.

“At the end of the evening, I had a very good collection of samples,” says Burtt. “Some of that stuff is excellent, with fascinating textures and true alien environments. It will add important coloration to the final mix.” As the imaginary languages faded and the performers reverted to English while leaving their seats, the Stag Theater kept within its padded walls the echoes of an ephemeral alien community that won’t speak again for several months, until Episode I reaches the screens in spring of 1999.

Inside the Holocron – Continuity

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Continuity’ is the name of the game for Jayne-Ann Tenggren. As Script Supervisor for the main unit of Episode I, she had to make sure everything captured by the camera eye was consistent with the script – and also with what had been shot before. “It’s really a sort of on-set editorial position,” she says, “but it goes beyond that as well.”

Script Supervisors wield their pens with the painstaking accuracy of Nobel scientists. “After a take I would write down the details,” says Tenggren, “What happened, what was good, what wasn’t, the timing of it all. And then I would go to the camera people and get the setup: lens, distance, stock they’re working on, and all of that.”

However, aboard the Episode I project, some unusual waves inevitably come crashing down on the deck. So in addition to keeping closely in touch with the usual departments – wardrobe, make-up, hair, props – in order to make sure every small detail agreed with everything else, Tenggren needed to add a few unusual contacts to her list. Industrial Light & Magic was one of them, for it was vital that continuity be maintained with a wide variety of digital props, creatures, characters and backgrounds. “The first take we did would be a reference take, and so we would have in there somebody, or something, that was representative of the digital character, and the actors would perform, with dialogue and everything. We would then do the next take without the stand-in, making sure that the timing of the two takes was pretty comparable,” explains Tenggren. Keeping everything cross-referenced with ILM was standard procedure for such sensitive shots.

The numerous action scenes involving stunt doubles also required special care. Tenggren worked with Stunt Supervisor Nick Gillard to keep her knowledge of the fight choreography up to date, while relying on her trained eyes to spot any discrepancy in hair placement, costume arrangement, make-up condition and body position, both during filming with the actors themselves and – a more delicate operation – when switching from actors to stunt doubles and vice versa.

A less obvious problem, which nonetheless remains a major issue, is what could be called the ‘motion print’, the unique way in which every person moves. “At one point we were discussing a connective shot where Liam Neeson’s character runs after his opponent, right before they jump to a different level. It simply didn’t work. And it didn’t work because it wasn’t Liam Neeson running. He has a very recognizable run.” So Tenggren made sure those problems were fixed and that continuity was maintained. Every last detail was examined; no exceptions were made for the fast-paced action scenes. “Even in the scenes that move the most, if somebody’s got a piece of hair sticking out, and you lose a member of the audience because they’re looking at the hair and not the performance, then that’s a shame,” Tenggren comments.

Episode I also involved multiple sets, adding to the already high total of variables Tenggren had to deal with. “The thing about multiple sets is that you have to keep tabs on where each set is supposed to be, or what multiple sets are supposed to form just one,” she says. When characters round some corner, during a chase, and end up in another corridor, everything has to make sense, and each set has to connect perfectly with the next one. Fight sequences, in this respect, once again require delicate handling.

However, sometimes the simplest of problems remain the most persistent. “Long hair is always tricky, because of the way it moves around,” says Tenggren. “Liam Neeson’s hair was sometimes forward, sometimes back, and I had to keep track of that. It was a real issue since the scenes weren’t shot in chronological order. I thought that Obi-Wan’s braid was going to be more problematical than it was, though. Obviously, in a fight sequence, the braid is going to be all over the place, and you have no way of controlling that. You have to live with it.”

Everything about Episode I is being entered into a database which will contain all the work done on the three movies of the prequel trilogy, so that anything can easily be cross-referenced; this meant that Tenggren would need to type up her notes sooner or later. “On the set we did discuss the idea of typing directly into the computer, but there are certain limitations to doing that,” she says. “The idea behind the way in which you structure your day, in terms of notetaking, is that during rehearsals you type up the shot description, and so by the time the camera rolls, the only thing you’re doing is really to focus on the action, the continuity, the dialogue. But on this particular film it was different because much of what we did was organic. The camera would roll and it would evolve and be continually evolving. So I’m glad we didn’t opt to do that. It’s just much easier to have a handwritten pad and, you know, jot all over it.”

Even in a situation where technology seems to be leading the way, the solution sometimes comes in the form of non-technological means. History remembers that an evil Empire once found that out on a lush forest moon.

Inside the Holocron – The Urban Legends of Star Wars

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The Urban Legends of Star Wars

We’ve all heard them: urban legends, friend-of-a-friend stories (FOAFs), tales too good to be true. These are stories of dubious origin that get passed around, distorted, and retold so many times that they acquire a certain authenticity. After all, if so many people claim them to be true, they must be, right?

Numerous books and websites chronicle the spread of urban legends. Most of the tales are patently false. Some have a small kernel of truth to them, and a few are actually true.

The popularity of Star Wars has spread to become part of the public consciousness. And when something enters the arena of popular culture and folklore, the urban legends invariably follow.

This series will present some of the most popular Star Wars urban legends that have been floating around for years.

Urban Legend: A “naughty” Star Wars trading card was printed and made it out on the market, the result of a mischievous airbrush artist.

Sometimes, the truth behind a legend is stranger than the fiction. Topps has long produced quality trading cards for the Star Wars movies. Their first series for A New Hope was an extensive showcase on all the photography taken on set. Collectors cherish their original cards from a time when UV-coating and holographic seals were unheard of, and cards came in wax-pack with sticks of gum. One particular card, though, is valued for collectors for its notoriety.

Star Wars card #207, part of the green-bordered series, has gathered a fair amount of attention. To be delicate, this image of C-3PO looks to be sporting a piece of anatomy that has no business being on a PG-rated protocol droid. Theories blossomed about how this giggle-inducing card could have come about. They invariably followed a common urban legend template — a disgruntled artist on the eve of being fired added a personal touch to the artwork.

The true explanation doesn’t make as entertaining a story, but seems to be a bizarre case of coincidence. In combing through the old archives at Topps and Lucasfilm, it appears that the extra appendage is not the work of an artist, but rather a trick of timing and light. The untouched archive photo shows the image just as it appears on the card. The current theory is that at the exact instant the photo was snapped, a piece fell off the Threepio costume, and just happened to line up in such a way as to suggest a bawdy image. The original contact sheets from the photo-shoot attests to this. They are not retouched in any way, yet still contain the same image. Whatever the real explanation is, the ‘mischievous airbrush artist’ scenario simply doesn’t fit.

No matter how innocent the photo, the card did generate attention. Rather than explain the admittedly hard-to-believe story, Topps re-issued the card with an airbrushed correction. The corrected version currently trades at considerably less value than the original–even though there are probably fewer copies of it in print–which only helps to keep the legend alive.

Urban Legend: Footage exists of the Millennium Falcon being destroyed at the end of Return of the Jedi.

One of Return of the Jedi’s most exciting sequences is the Millennium Falcon’s escape from the exploding Death Star, just meters ahead of a burning wall of fire. It’s a very close call for Lando, and for a moment, it seems that Han’s bleak prophecy — that he’ll never see the Falcon again — will come true. But the freighter blasts through the flames triumphantly.

It’s hard to pin down where the rumor of the Falcon’s demise started. Perhaps Harrison Ford’s suggestion to George Lucas that Han Solo die at the end of Jedi fueled it spread.

One definite culprit in this legend’s longevity is a revised plot synopsis treatment entitled “The Revenge and Return of the Jedi”. Dated July 6 1980, (though undoubtedly printed at a later date), this concise retelling of the basic story — with notable changes — is a fake. It describes Luke taking over the Death Star (re-christening it the Life Star), Vader being the “other” Yoda spoke of, and Leia and Han marrying at the film’s end, with Wicket one of the attendants at the wedding. It also contains the following passage:

“Meanwhile, the Death Star ray begins destroying Rebel ships. Lando and the Rebel Forces unsuccessfully attempt to penetrate the force field, and the efforts on Endor have failed. Lando sees many of his comrades dying for the Alliance. He feels that the Alliance might die itself if something is not done soon. Lando makes a final decision to plow the Millennium Falcon through the force field in a self-sacrificing gesture for the Rebel Alliance. Lando and the Falcon explode in a beautiful burst of energy and color.”

The first giveaway that the treatment is bogus is that its 1980 date pre-dates Lucas’ hand-written first draft of Jedi by over six months. Not only that, but this supposedly older treatment more closely matches the finished film than the first draft screenplay, which has such differing elements as two Death Stars, the Imperial capital world, and tribes of “Ewaks.”

Lucas’ very first hand-written draft screenplay of Jedi, dated February 24, 1981, has Lando surviving. “Chewie slaps Lando on the back, almost knocking him over,” Lucas writes of the end celebration. Different versions of this survive to the final screenplay. Lando is alive and well in every version.

An excerpt from the screenplay that has Lando and the Falcon destroyed and Han looking up, quietly voicing his loss, has shown up on the Internet, but it too is a fake. Also untrue are tales that footage of the Falcon made its way into test screenings of Return of the Jedi, but was ultimately left out of the movie because it didn’t score well with the audience.

Given the weight of this evidence, it appears there is no truth behind the rumor that the Falcon and Lando were originally to have perished. It is possible the idea may have been thrown around during undocumented brainstorming sessions, but the legend that it actually was committed to film is false.

 Urban Legend: Long before Star Wars made it to the movie screen, the entire story existed as a series of novels entitled “The Journal of the Whills” which told the tales of Episodes I-VI and more.

It would be the ultimate find: the rumored tome which contains the complete Star Wars saga. One rumor pegs it as a series of 12 books. Unfortunately, such books do not exist outside of wishful thinking.

At the bottom of the Prologue to A New Hope’s novelization is the tantalizing attribution: “From the First Saga, The Journal of the Whills.”

This cryptic citation has caused much confusion over the years. The Journal is not a massive tome with a maddeningly low print run that is eluding collectors. Rather, it is a fictitious work from which the Star Wars stories are culled.

The storyline of the entire Star Wars saga has never been printed. It exists in the mind of George Lucas, and in his binders of notes and story treatments. “Originally, I was trying to have the story be told by somebody else; there was somebody watching this whole story and recording it, somebody probably wiser than the mortal players in the actual events,” explains Lucas in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays. “I eventually dropped this idea, and the concepts behind the Whills turned into the Force. But the Whills became part of this massive amount of notes, quotes, background information that I used for the scripts; the stories were actually taken from the Journal of the Whills.”

That said, though, there was one Star Wars book published before the 1977 release of the film, which may have helped keep this legend alive. The novelization of A New Hope – then called Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, came out a full six months early, in December of 1976. Now a collector’s item, the novel features early Ralph McQuarrie artwork of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and proudly states on its cover “soon to be a spectacular motion picture!”

So though the novel was written based on the movie screenplay, it did come out first. This was a time when no one knew about Star Wars, and Lucasfilm had to do anything it could to spread the word about its soon-to-be revolutionary movie. Perhaps fans that saw the 1976 first printing dates began to speculate on there being other early books.

Urban Legend: The footage of Luke and Biggs at Anchorhead appeared in a few early screenings of Star Wars, and was shown when the film first aired on TV.

The letters column of the Star Wars Insider magazine revealed just how pervasive this legend is. A few years back, many fans wrote in, adamant that they remembered cut scenes featuring Biggs Darklighter and Luke Skywalker being shown theatrically or on television. To paraphrase Obi-Wan, “your mind can deceive you; don’t trust it.”

Most fans know of the cut Anchorhead scene. Early in A New Hope, as the droids trek across the deserts of Tatooine, Luke Skywalker has a reunion with his old friend Biggs Darklighter. The footage was cut from the final release of the film. It was never released theatrically. Yet there are many fans who seem to remember seeing it.

Where are these false memories coming from? Well, most Star Wars fans have vivid imaginations — after all, Star Wars is an excellent playground for the imagination. A combination of half-remembered images together with an active imagination could have constructed these past memories. Although the Biggs footage was never shown theatrically, it did survive in a number of forms:

The Star Wars novelization has the scene with Luke and Biggs

The very first Star Wars comic book, from Marvel Comics, included the sequence

A very brief excerpt of filming this scene is visible in The Making of Star Wars television special, which aired on September 16, 1977 — this may account for fans remembering it being shown on TV

The original Star Wars Storybook featured the scene complete with photos

The 1981 Star Wars radio drama included an expanded version of this scene

So, the above sources combined with a fertile imagination may have produced memories of this film being shown theatrically and on television.

Urban Legend: A rocket-firing Boba Fett action figure was made and several were shipped to early buyers.

This one’s been the bane of many an action figure collector. When the first Boba Fett action figure was planned in 1978, following that year’s “Star Wars Holiday Special” on television which introduced the bounty hunter in an animated segment and in anticipation of the character’s role in the upcoming film, The Empire Strikes Back, toymaker Kenner Products had plans to incorporate a special rocket-firing backpack.

The Boba Fett figure wasn’t available in stores initially. It was first unveiled as a 1979 mail-in promotion in which collectors could send in cut-out proofs-of-purchase and then receive the rocket-firing figure a while later. While the toy was still in the final stages of planning, however, a similar missile-firing feature in Battlestar Galactica toys from Mattel raised some child safety issues and caused a product recall. Kenner quickly realized it had to modify the coolest and most promoted feature of its new action figure. It experimented with a few variations to see if it could figure out a child-proof “locking” mechanism for the small firing missile, but quickly gave up and retooled the figure. It removed the firing mechanism and permanently glued the missile into the backpack.

Kenner quickly modified all advertising and promotional material so that the offer no longer made mention of the rocket-firing feature. Also, the Fetts that were mailed came with a small note explaining the following:

“Originally, our Star Wars Boba Fett action figure was designed to have a spring-launched rocket. The launcher has been removed from the product for safety reasons. If you are dissatisfied with the product, please return it to us and we will replace it with any Star Wars mini-action figure of your choice.”

While some people “remember” getting a missile-firing Fett in the mail, none of the rocket-firing Boba Fett figures were released. Their memories are playing tricks on them. A small amount of production-test figures, called “first-shots”, were made for Kenner’s inspection, but these were usually rough, unfinished, unpainted action figures, although these and some painted variations have made there way to collectors’ hands.

So, if you hear tales of “a friend of a friend who got a rocket-firing Fett in the mail,” be gentle.

Urban Legend: At the end of A New Hope, an excited Luke Skywalker can be heard to yell “Carrie!” to Princess Leia.

Actors do make mistakes. They are, after all, humans (even the computer-generated ones, at heart). Since so much work has to go into turning an on-set performance into a finished Star Wars movie, mistakes can be caught and fixed by the many people who handle the film after the shooting is done.

Much of the sound heard in Star Wars was created and crafted after the action had been shot. Though on-set microphones captured the live performance as it occurred, many times actors had to come back in to loop dialog. Even dialog that is captured on set is carefully mixed and massaged by sound editors to achieve a certain consistency and interaction with other added sound effects. In the end, so many people scrutinize the audio recording that it seems unlikely that such a gaff could have gotten through.

So, while it indeed sounds like “Carrie!” to many people, in the finished film, that’s not what Mark Hamill says.

What does he say? While putting together the improved soundtrack for the Special Edition Trilogy, sound editor Ben Burtt investigated the matter. All the original tracks, 1/4-inch tapes, and source materials were pulled out from storage, and listened to in a big mix room at Skywalker Sound. “We made loops out of everything Mark said and played them for a panel of listeners,” says Burtt. “We edited the recording and filtered it and did everything we could to clean up the phrase where he yells as he hugs Princess Leia”

The audio investigation included numerous takes of Mark Hamill recording that scene. “The consensus was that he is yelling ‘hey’ or ‘yay,’ rather than ‘Carrie.’ In other takes he specifically yells ‘yay!’ at that point,” explains Burtt. “Like most garbled dialog, if you listen to it over and over with all the other voices in there you can convince yourself that he is saying ‘Carrie’ or any number of things. But we were convinced that he really was just cheering.”

According to Mark Hamill, he excitedly yells “Hey! There she is!” indicating that Luke was scanning the rushing crowd for Leia. In the excitement, Luke doesn’t stop to enunciate each syllable like a certain golden protocol droid would do. “I ended up swallowing the ‘is’ part,” says Hamill. So the end result was garbled to the point that some people believe it sounds an awful lot like “Carrie!” So much so that even those closely involved in the production can hear that if they listen to it enough times.

Inside the Holocron – Storyboarding the Menace

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Storyboarding the Menace

With Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, it took tremendous innovation in the areas of animatics, non-linear editing, sound design, computer effects, and character animation to bring George Lucas’ vision to the big screen. For Episode I storyboard artist Ed Natividad, however, the job wasn’t about technical innovation, but idea generation. “A pen and a paper, that’s all I need,” Natividad says with pride. “And the pencil around my neck.”

An Ohio native, Natividad joined the Episode I production team in 1997 and spent his first year fleshing out some of the initial storyboards for the film. A storyboard is an artist’s rendering of a specific point of the story from the camera’s point of view. Put together, the storyboards create a shot-by-shot prototype of the final film.

“While there were all these advancements in effects, storyboards were kept pretty much the same as before,” says Natividad. “We were keeping in the tradition and style of the first three films. Joe Johnston’s technique was carried throughout.” Renowned for his concept and storyboard art for the original Star Wars films, Joe Johnston had “the best visual style – ever” according to Lucas. A tough act to follow.

Where the primary focus of storyboarding composition, continuity, and screen direction, efficiency is key. “It’s very basic, mainly pencil and maybe some black marker,” explains Natividad. “We use normal 8.5 by 11 inch pages, each with three panels. Then we enlarge them with the photocopier and cut them out. You can’t spend a lot of time on them.”

A storyboard veteran of films like Armageddon and Batman and Robin, Natividad notes that the use of standard tools didn’t mean that The Phantom Menace was business as usual. In order to ensure that the many people involved in production would be clear on the direction from the beginning, it was decided that the script and the storyboards would be created simultaneously.

“In other productions, we would get the full script,” Natividad says. “In this case, we never received copies of the script. Every Tuesday we would sit around a table and George would come in and read off new pages while we would draw primitive sketches. In the following days we would embellish them very quickly and present them to George on Friday.”

“Each new scene would start with an establishing shot, like a large Kurosawa-style battle on rolling hills from a high angle. Doug Chiang would draw the scene’s establishing shots and keyframes – the high points in the action – and we would fill in all the necessary boards in between. But later on they would change accordingly once design, exact location and casting were finalized.”

Natividad and colleague Benton Jew spent most of a year exclusively storyboarding, but the storyboard team itself would often grow to a group of four or five as the need would arise. “Anyone in the art department would jump in if they weren’t busy with other things. Doug was the leader and Ian McCaig was very instrumental, but we all contributed. There wasn’t much specializing. Everyone had to be able to draw everything.”

With such an iterative process, it is not surprising that the storyboard team had to adapt to significant changes along the way. “There was going to be a fight with the droids and tanks in the desert,” Natividad recalls. “The Jedi powers were a little bit more magnified. They could jump 100 feet in the air and turn invisible – they would kind of shimmer. Obi-Wan could make a suggestion with the Force and a legion of droids would turn on each other and blow themselves away… to kind of lessen the Jedi’s effort.”

As the storyboards were completed, they were pinned to foam boards in sequential order. “We had them all over the room,” Natividad says. “Ultimately we ran out of space, but it was amazing to see the entire movie before your eyes.” Laying out the boards like that also made it possible for director Lucas to pre-edit film sequences, often removing boards or changing their order to make a scene more exciting visually.

At that point, the storyboards were shown to Industrial Light & Magic. “Because of the large number of effects required, the storyboards were very critical for ILM to determine their financial estimates for the film,” explains Natividad. “They came in and George actually took some markers and color coded what would be a digital matte, computer generated elements, sets and miniatures. The quality and accuracy of the storyboard drawing had to be much higher than for other films. Everything had to be clearly represented. Nothing left to question. The computer guys take things very literally when they do their modeling.”


With the initial round of storyboarding complete, for the next year Natividad turned his attention to concept design for the countless elements needed to populate the Star Wars universe. With major themes in place, Ed helped the artistic team in coming up with a look for everything from the Jedi temple to Gungan weaponry to statues to costumes for secondary characters and down to even smaller details like tables, chairs and light fixtures. “In the art department, we all have to be versatile and able to jump in wherever we are needed,” said Natividad. “There were so many things to design. We would just take what Doug and Ian McCaig had established aesthetically and would springboard off of that. ”

But storyboarding did not end when the shooting of film began. As live action footage progressed, the storyboard artists were called upon to produce ‘effects boards.’ “We would receive stills from blue screen filming and it would be up to us to fill in the blue void,” says Natividad. Once the effects boards were complete, the team was also responsible for drawing storyboards for any reshoots that were determined to be necessary through the editing process.

Despite the repeated and detailed involvement Natividad had with each scene from Episode I, the final product was still a mystery. “The pacing was different than I expected. It went by a little bit faster than I thought,” he says. “Actually, I didn’t want to see anything from the movie before it was done. I avoided every opportunity to preview the movie…anything.” He saw the film theatrically 13 times throughout the summer.

Natividad was relaxing in Hawaii when the call came with the invitation to work on Episode II. He accepted “in a heartbeat” and doesn’t expect the storyboarding process to change much. “We have a schedule to meet, so I think it will be a little more efficient and won’t take as long,” he predicts. “But I think pencil and paper is still the best and quickest way. Everything is moving towards the computer, but what if the director wants you to come up to his office and come up with some ideas? You can’t bring the computer up there.”

“The film is the final artwork. My drawings are ideas.”

Inside the Holocron – Mocking Up Episode I

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Mocking Up Episode I

In the midst of making a movie, when pre-production is in full swing and everything has to take form quickly, there needs to be people to make it happen, to deftly turn clay and other media into “visualization” tools, or mock-ups. On Episode I, one of those key people was Robert Barnes.

“I’m a long-time Star Wars fan,” Barnes says from his office at Skywalker Ranch. “I’ve always been fascinated by the energy and creativity poured into these movies.” Born and raised in California, Barnes studied art and industrial design in college. “Industrial design combines all the artistic techniques I like,” he says, “and it adds the practical angle of product production, because you’re designing devices that are supposed to be used and not just looked at. I really like that.” Barnes added to his skills by also studying sculpture and painting.

After two years of hard work at California State University, Long Beach, Barnes received an assignment to illustrate a short science fiction script. His instructor brought in the Sketch Book of Joe Johnston – one of the original Star Wars designers – and Barnes was hit by a revelation. “I discovered that I was studying in the same program where Joe Johnston, John Dykstra (visual effects pioneer and former ILM wizard), and Steve Gawley (current ILM Model Supervisor) had been,” says Barnes, “working on that assignment, and hearing the stories from my instructor (Rob Westerkamp), who had been a schoolmate of theirs, made a connection between my childhood love for science fiction ‘stuff,’ and real life. I had always remembered seeing the very first “Making of Star Wars“‘ on television as a kid, and for the first time I realized that it was possible to actually make a living out of that.”

But when the time came to make the jump, things weren’t as obvious to Barnes as he might have liked. “My wife had to talk me into applying for an internship at Industrial Light & Magic,” he recalls. “It was a daunting task, but I finally gave in – one day before the deadline! I put my package together overnight, sent it, and waited.” The last-minute gamble paid off: ILM invited him to come aboard. “I was in the ILM Art Department, doing visual research, putting presentations together, building artwork catalogs and doing a bit of basic sculpting. I also got to work on an architectural model when the department moved, and that was a lot of fun,” says Barnes. “This was my first experience in the movie business, and I got to see how things were done on the other side of the screen. I liked what I saw.”

After his internship, Barnes went back to school in order to complete his training and get his design degree. Upon graduation, he promptly got an offer from ILM, which wanted to hire him as a production assistant. Barnes was happy to be reunited with his visual effects buddies. But after only two months, Episode I Design Director Doug Chiang called and offered Barnes a job as production assistant on the new Star Wars film. “I felt a bit bad about leaving ILM so early,” Barnes says, “but this was too good an opportunity, and the people around me understood that. So I packed my things and moved to Skywalker Ranch.”

Barnes quickly became an expert at quick and effective visualization. Whenever a design needed to be mocked-up so that everyone could see what the object or character looked like as a three-dimensional element, Barnes would whip something up and make it happen. “You just have to be quick, and not be afraid to use anything to reach your goal,” he says. “Foam, air ducting, mat board, liquid latex, gauze, anything that will do the trick.” The key: keep it cheap, keep it fast. Barnes first started by helping Production Designer Gavin Bocquet build foamcore models of Otoh Gunga, the underwater city of the Gungans, and went on from there. “At one point I worked on Podracer mock-ups,” Barnes says. “The mock-ups were built in foam at 1:24 scale, and we’d use a lipstick-sized camera to simulate some shots between and around the models. I felt like we were kids playing with toys.” Barnes didn’t dislike the experience, of course. “I also got to sculpt the first representation of the underwater environment the Gungan sub goes through – the series of underwater crevasses and cliff walls,” he says. “The whole conceptual model was sculpted in a big block of foam, and painted in shades of dark blue, to simulate the kind of lighting you would get at such a depth.”

Among Barnes’ many other projects was the construction of the first full-size battle droid. The mechanical wonder was built out of foamcore, and fully articulated. When it came time to visualize some Podracing scenes with the help of videomatics – crude video footage used for reference – Barnes conjured up Anakin’s cockpit, full size. “That was really fun, because I got to work directly with George detailing the cockpit and adding antennas and instruments. And we all couldn’t resist the temptation to climb in and work the controls. We’d all been working on Podrace elements, but this was the first time we could put ourselves into it.” He also crafted a life-size foam Sebulba puppet, and gave the mock-up pilot a mock-up cockpit. He did the same thing for the videomatic used to visualize the ground battle, skillfully giving life to an assemblage of foam pieces that became a very realistic representation of Jar Jar. Barnes’ diversified skills also allowed him to paint most of the creature maquettes based on Terryl Whitlatch’s drawings. Then he moved on to clay sculpture.

Barnes started by modifying already existing sculptures. In the case of the Sando Aqua Monster, for instance, Barnes was asked to re-sculpt the head and change body details to make the whole creature look more massive. “I used texture to convey a sense of size,” he explains. “I would create fine texture to replace large bumps and the like. We also gave the Monster smaller eyes, which is a good indicator of huge scale.” Barnes also sculpted a handful of characters, like an early version of the pot-bellied Watto. “The challenge here is to take a 2D painting or drawing, and give it a 3D form,” says Barnes. “We sometimes have multiple views for the same object, but they’re all in two dimensions. And that process is right up my alley. It’s product design: interpreting 2D drawing in 3D concepts.”

But why painstakingly create such sculptures when these characters will be re-built as computer models anyway? “Despite all the computer power now available, visual effects artists still rely on clay models,” says Barnes. “They are usually scanned into the computer, and serve as the basic structure on which the computer models will be built. They also use the sculptures along the way as reference material. That’s why there is still a whole team of concept sculptors at ILM. They’re real masters – I’ve learned a lot from those guys.”

Back for Episode II, Barnes will have an opportunity to keep learning and to keep perfecting his fascinating art of bringing concepts to life as quick as a wink.

Inside the Holocron – Spherical Solutions

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Spherical Solutions

For Industrial Light & Magic, one of the most demanding tasks on Episode I was to seamlessly mesh computer-generated characters, objects and landscapes together with live-action footage. When a CG character interacts with a flesh-and-blood actor, the illusion of actual contact needs to be perfect. And in this respect, proper light sources greatly help “sell” the effect. So the visual effects teams devised clever and inventive tools that would allow them to duplicate, within their computers, the lighting conditions that existed on the set during filming. One of these tools was surprisingly simple, yet more efficient than any high-tech gear could have been. A simple sphere.

“When you’re putting a CG character into a shot and you want it to look like it’s really there,” says Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll, “it’s extremely important to get the lighting right. And the best way to do that is to try to capture what kind of lighting was present on the set at the point where the CG character is supposed to be standing. So we had a sphere. One side of it was gray, and the other side was chrome. And each time the lights and cameras were set up for a new shot, we would film the sphere – first with its gray side facing the camera, and then the chrome side.”

“The gray side of the sphere is the same 17 percent gray as our standard gray card,” continues Knoll. This gray card is used to gauge the overall lighting at a precise point on the set, and is always the same shade of gray for continuity in the comparisons. “With the gray side, you can see what the key light and fill light ratio were, and what color the different lights were,” Knoll continues.

On a set, the “key light” is the principal source of light, while the “fill light” refers to the source that creates the ambiance lighting – the type of even lighting one gets in a room where the sun bounces off the walls and covers pretty much the whole area. For this reason, the fill is usually created with indirect illumination, such as a spotlight reflected on a white piece of cardboard.

“Within a computer,” explains Knoll, “a great way to get the lighting very close to what it was on the set is to put a computer-generated gray sphere next to the one that was shot with the live-action elements. You can then move your CG lights around until you have a pretty good match and the two spheres look the same.” This technique enabled the digital artists to get information on the color and intensity of the light sources. To obtain details as to the exact position of these lights, the crew rotated their shiny Death Star.

“The chrome side was very useful, in that it would act like a curved mirror and let us see all the lights in the room,” says Knoll. “You could look at the sphere and see that the key light was here and that the fill was coming from a four-by-eight piece of foamcore down there.” This allowed the virtual light sources to be positioned with more accuracy within the digital set.

Despite its obvious usefulness, however, the sphere only provided the visual effects teams with approximations of the way light sources played on the different surfaces present on the set. The digital artists still had quite some work ahead of them to get to the final result. The sphere is a short-cut, but not a miracle. “We’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of that trick,” says Knoll. “With the sphere you can be reasonably sure that when you put your CG character in there, your lighting is already pretty close to the real thing. But you’re not done… So you start with the sphere, and begin tweaking from there.”

Inside the Holocron – Model Concepts

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Model Concepts:

An Interview with John Goodson and John Duncan

December 16, 2000 — John Goodson and John Duncan share more in common than a first name. The two of them are concept model makers on Episode II, and are responsible for helping envision the droids, vehicles and starships that will appear on the screen in 2002.

Working from illustrations provided by Episode II Design Director Doug Chiang other concept artists, these model makers construct detailed miniatures of Episode II’s hard-surfaced machinery, allowing effects artists as well as director George Lucas to look at all angles of an imaginary device before it is built full size or rendered digitally.

The process usually begins with several drawings showing the subject from different vantage points. From there, the model makers draw some refined sketches to extrapolate the angles, proportions and shapes. They begin construction of preliminary small models – typically from three to four inches long – to explore the look of the models. Once that look is approved, the larger model work begins, often between 14 and 18 inches in size.

“John Duncan and John Goodson are probably two of the best conceptual modelers I’ve ever worked with,” says Chiang. “They have just an incredible ability to translate two dimensional drawings into a three dimensional objects that are in many ways far superior to the original designs. They always contribute and add something more. It’s a important function, because once we get something approved on paper, we need to visualize it very quickly three dimensionally.”

Recounts Chiang, “Probably the best example of this would be the Naboo starfighter. That design was already very sleek when drawn on paper. But when I handed it over to John Duncan he made it even more elegant and refined. It’s that kind of working relationship where the design slowly starts to evolve until it’s the final product.”

Both Duncan and Goodson modeled many of the vehicles seen in Episode I. “Let’s see, there was the landing ship, the Trade Federation tank, Sith speeder, Republic cruiser, Coruscant taxi, the Gungan submarine,” recounts Goodson.

“I did the original maquette for the Naboo fighter,” recalls Duncan. “I worked on the battle droid, every incarnation of the MTT, the pit droid, a number of shuttlecraft, Valorum’s shuttle, the STAPs… I almost have to sit down with a list of pictures and say, ‘yeah, I worked on that, that and that.'”

The two can trace their passion for model making back to childhood. “When I was about five years old I built my first model kit,” remembers Goodson. “Another kid in the neighborhood took a model and just smashed it to pieces. I was so fascinated with that I went and collected all the little pieces of it and pieced this thing back together again.” Although the end result, an airplane, was made from shattered fragments with a candy bar cardboard sleeve for wings, Goodson remembers it as a masterpiece. A steady diet of Star Trek, Space 1999, and Starlog magazine fostered in Goodson a love for miniature ships.

“Star Trek was one of my first fascinations when I was a kid,” concurs Duncan. “I had a job mowing lawns and I used to go out as soon as I got paid. I’d take my $5 and run down to the local drugstore and buy myself whatever Star Trek model was on the shelf. So I had all those and I put them together and then of course when Star Wars came out, that one really hit home. I was a big C-3PO and R2-D2 fan.”

Aside from his fascination with the droids, Duncan also was a big fan of the darker characters in the series. “I always liked bad guys,” he reveals. “Darth Vader was one of my very favorite characters from the movie, and with other science fictions shows I’ve always leaned towards the bad guys. They’re always more fascinating.”

For Episode II, Duncan got to work on some villainous machinery in the form of new battle droids. “I made the original maquette of the battle droids for Episode I, and I’m working on the new battle droid for Episode II. That’s the one I can’t wait to see on the screen. I just love robots; Lost in Space, Robbie the Robot, Metropolis, all those classics.”

Goodson also has experience in designing mechanical monsters. “The destroyer droid from Episode I was actually a lot of fun,” he recalls. “I worked on two versions of that, one coiled up in a ball and the other version where it’s standing. I also made a really crude kind of paper and plastic model that would kind of unfold, just to work out the mechanics of it all.”

Prior to their work in the Art Department, both Duncan and Goodson were veterans of ILM’s Model Shop. Duncan’s first project at ILM was helping realize the famous Acura commercial wherein a full-sized car appears to zip through a giant Hot Wheels racetrack. Duncan experienced a childhood thrill when he helped construct the Enterprise-E for Star Trek: First Contact.

As a longtime fan of the Star Wars movies, Duncan was taken aback by the possibility of working on Episode I. “It caught me off guard because there were a lot of people who had been here a lot longer than I had. I guess I impressed the right people and lucked into it. I was very excited. Steve Gawley was the one that came and told me,” recounts Duncan. Gawley had been one of Duncan’s heroes, having worked in the model shop on the original Star Wars trilogy. “It was so funny because the first project I ever worked on at ILM, I got to work with Steve Gawley and I remember going home and telling my wife, ‘I get to call him Steve!’ That he’s the one that told me that they were interested in having me up at the Ranch for Episode I is so funny.”

After his stint in Episode I’s Art Department, Duncan took his model making expertise to ILM, where he would help create the actual shooting models based on the designs of the concept models. “What’s different is that in the Art Department, one artist generally works on one model. At the ILM Model Shop, you get 10 people working on one thing. For the Trade Federation battleship for Episode I, I think just about everybody in the Model Shop had some little piece of that somewhere along the way.”

Goodson also worked at ILM, merging his schooling in industrial design with his childhood fascination of building models into a full-time career. “The job was supposed to be ‘come in for a week,’ and that’s going on 13 years now, so I think it’s worked out perfectly. To wind up working on Star Wars, it’s absolutely amazing to me.”

Despite being involved in cutting edge filmmaking, Goodson eschews computers for a more hands-on approach. “The most sophisticated I get is a calculator,” he says. “Five years ago everybody was totally paranoid that computer graphics would wipe us out. But it’s dependent upon the visual effects supervisor as to what they feel is the best approach. Certain effects supervisors, like John Knoll, love to have models. Even if he’s going to do the whole sequence in CG he loves to have models for lighting reference and shadows and all that stuff.”

Goodson believes there will always be a need for physical models in the concept phase. “I think it’s much harder to see things when you design in a computer,” says Goodson. “I call it going from hands-on to hands-tied because you can put a design on a computer, and put it on a turntable, but it is not the same thing as being able to take it out and hold it in your hand and look at it. Models are little version of reality. People are always intrigued with looking at the detail. Pilots that have flown a B17 in World War II have models of B17s. It’s a fascination.”

Of interest to long-time Star Wars fans is the gradual aesthetic shift from the smooth streamlined designs of Episode I to the more plate-and-armored look of the classic trilogy. “You’re definitely starting to see things that are going to integrate these first movies into the original three films,” says Goodson. “There’s definitely that theme that’s starting to come in. There were a few things that looked like traditional Star Wars — the Federation Battleship and the Republic Cruiser in particular had that kind of plated look with little chunks taken out of the edge of the plating and little chips for detail. But we’re now seeing things that are starting to kind of cross that line.”

Designs adapt and improve as the story progressed. A starfighter design originally intended for evil-doers in the film found its way to the good guy’s arsenal, allowing Duncan to craft a model that would have otherwise gone discarded. “They just keep moving things around,” says Duncan. “If it doesn’t work for one use, it may look great for another. I know they did that for a number of the creature designs where they started making something for one thing, and then George suggest that by scaling it down, it could be used for something else.”

“There are these huge walls in Doug’s office, one that’s called Hopefuls that are approved art, and the other one’s has unapproved or preliminary art,” says Goodson. “There’s a lot of fantastic artwork on the unapproved wall. And a lot of times they went back to it. George would remember previous designs or concepts and either use them as-is, or use them as jumping-off points for other ideas. A lot of times they’ll go back and they’ll pull things off that wall and use them.”

Of the approved designs that Goodson worked on, the one he’s most eager to see on the screen is a brand new military transport. “I’m really anxious to see that,” says Goodson. “Part of the reason is because Doug did one really dramatic concept painting with them, and he’s done a variety of sketches where he’s got all these really great shots where you’re behind it looking over the wings, and it’s firing missiles down below. It’s pretty cool.”

Despite the long time between a model’s completion and seeing it realized on the big screen, Duncan’s steady work makes the wait bearable. “You’re working on it the whole way through so you don’t just do your stuff and then have to sit and wait. One of the hardest things on Episode I was that there was a lot of time spent building these maquettes and things without seeing any shots. At ILM, you got used to seeing dailies or at least periodically seeing something, which would inspire you to keep going. On Episode I pre-production, it was a year-and-a-half of concept work before even a frame of film was shot, it kind of detached you a little from the project. This time around, however, I have a better idea of what is going on.”

Like their work on Episode I, Duncan and Goodson expect to move down to ILM and work on the post-production end of model making there. “What I’m kind of looking forward to is that we’re going to be doing more miniature sets on this one,” says Duncan. “They found that that worked out really well on Episode I. Instead of building all these full sets, they just build a floor and one wall and did the rest with a miniature. I’m excited about that because that’s what I do.”

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of their work is seeing their designs transformed into mass-market models, so that aspiring model makers can now follow in Duncan and Goodson’s footsteps. When Episode I model kits hit the shelves in 1999, Goodson took a close look at some of his handiwork. “You wonder how they’ll translate some of the parts you designed, because there are little personal details. For the MTT, John Duncan put a Honda symbol on the back end of it. The first thing we did when we got the toys was to look for the Honda emblem. But they didn’t replicate that,” smiles Goodson.

Inside the Holocron – A Visit to the Archives

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A Visit to the Archives

The Lucasfilm Archives, justifiably renowned among legions of fans as the final resting place for everything from Darth Vader’s lightsaber to the Holy Grail that just eluded the grasp of Indiana Jones, is much more than just a prop mausoleum. It’s an active private collection where on-going programs of conservation and restoration ensure that precious items that aren’t really made to last, but that have become icons of popular culture, can survive for future generations to enjoy in exhibitions around the world.

And in an age where the “common wisdom’ had it that digital technology would replace the need for most hand-built props and models, the opposite seems to have happened. The Archives has grown larger and more sophisticated in the wake of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace than at any time since it was established shortly after completion of production of Return of the Jedi. “This is truly a unique collection” says Paloma Anoveros, the Collection Manager since October 1996. “Most production companies don’t keep the props, costumes and models that they generate for films. But I think that since Star Wars was a trilogy, the idea of reusing objects made sense. Later it became clear that these were films that were making an impact, and that these objects had an extremely iconographic power in our culture.”

Most Lucasfilm movies are represented in the Archives: The Indiana Jones Trilogy, the Star Wars films, WillowTucker, and even American Graffiti.

With the initial success of Star Wars, and the immediate realization that a second film would be made, Industrial Light & Magic kept a number of the props from the first film to see if they could be used again. It did the same thing for The Empire Strikes Back. The production company also sent some of the large pieces back from England for storage in California. But it wasn’t until around the time of the taking of a very famous photo–George Lucas amidst a sea of some of the most famous spacecraft, droids and other props from his trilogy–that Lucas decided it was time to set up a proper Archives.

It was also around that time that some of the earliest exhibitions of Lucasfilm props took place: The World Science Fiction Convention (Los Angeles, 1984), The Star Wars 10th Anniversary Celebration (Los Angeles, 1987) and several Marin County Fairs.

The first Archives was a makeshift rental in an industrial park, but at least it served as a gathering spot for all of the props, costumes, models and artwork. Several years later, the first climate-controlled Archives building was erected. A second structure has been added to accommodate Episode I costumes and props including the massive miniatures such as Theed city and the Mos Espa Arena. Currently, the Archives take up about 50,000 square feet of space.

The Archives also has a film department which houses production elements such as dailies, original sound recordings and continuity reports and audition reels and outtakes. The daily operations of the film archive include providing requested materials to departments such as Production and Publicity, while safeguarding the transition of materials to a cool, dry environment which will keep them protected for years to come.

“A normal museum usually grows steadily,” Anoveros says, “But we grow tremendously in spurts. Last year the collection more than doubled due to Episode I and other collections, so we have to be creative on how to address issues like this.”

Anoveros’s background is in artwork conservation and collections management. On her staff are two full-time model and costume archivists (Danielle Roode and Susan Copley), a film archivist (Sandra Groom), and project personnel like interns from museum studies programs.

Despite her museum and conservation background, Anoveros knows that, first and foremost, she serves an active film production company. “This is very much a collection in use, with props and models that may be needed at any time for production,” she says. “My role is not to prevent use but to minimize damage while things are being used. So I talk to the person who needs something for reference and ask, ‘Do you need the actual object, or would a great photo do?’ Or if it’s for filming, I make sure it’s packed and transported correctly and handled properly to minimize damage.”

For Episode I, the Archives got requests early on from the Art Department for props for reference for continuity purposes. It sent large amounts of material to Leavesden Studios outside of London for use in the actual film–everything from masks and costume to R2-D2 units and Luke Skywalker’s original landspeeder. A little closer to home, ILM borrowed props for blue-screen use or for reference for computer-graphic use. All of it needed to be logged, tracked, packed, shipped, and eventually brought back.

“A very important aspect of what we do is cataloguing the objects” Anoveros says. The Archives is implementing a bar code system because objects move in and out so quickly during filming. Then, if it needs to be sent out it can simply be scanned. Among the challenges faced by Anoveros and her staff is that objects built as film props, for the most part, aren’t built to last.

“We have modern materials and no one knows how they are going to perform long-term,” Anoveros says. “Many of these objects are fragile, and meant to be used under careful supervision in front of blue screen, and it’s a continuous challenge how to preserve them. For example latex, used widely for masks and creatures. There is no treatment for deteriorated latex. We try to provide stable environmental conditions and appropriate support for their preservation. Once latex deteriorates there is no treatment to recover it.”

Currently, the Archives doesn’t perform restoration work on-site, but hires trained professionals when necessary. “Sometimes we get work done at the ILM department where they created the actual object, or we contract it to conservators in the field who are experts in different materials,” Anoveros says. The Archives keeps a priority list based on how important a piece is, whether it might go on display at some point, and whether it will deteriorate further if it isn’t fixed.

“We try to focus on preventative conservation, which is avoiding damage before it happens to objects,” Anoveros says. “We try to keep things in stable environmental conditions by keeping the temperature at a constant 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 50-55% relative humidity. We have implemented a pest management system to prevent pest infestation. And in terms of storing objects, we try to provide the proper support for all objects, like costumes and masks to make sure they don’t sag or stretch and deform.”

The Archives collection is incredibly diverse. “We have models from full size spacecraft to miniatures, and from screen quality to foam-core prototypes,” Anoveros notes. “We have traditional costumes from Imperial officers to incredible Queen Amidala gowns to Gamorrean guards with all the foam layers of ‘fat.’ There are thousands of pieces of concept art and production paintings. There are original matte painting. These are usually done on glass, some are on board and some very large ones on canvas. This section of the collection isn’t likely to grow since matte painting are now done digitally.” The Lucasfilm Archives has multiple copies of some objects. “It’s just the nature of production,” Anoveros says. “For example, look at all of the version of R2-D2. One was worn by Kenny Baker and is considered a costume; one just has the ability to turn its head; another has the ability to drop its third leg. So these all add history to the collection.

One of Anoveros’s most weighty recent responsibilities was proposing what to keep for the Archives from Episode I. “I started first looking at the objects keeping in mind the issues of significance, quality, storage, transportation, and maintenance costs. The few pieces we could not keep-like the really large sets-we documented really well.”

In the last few years, much of the time of the Archives staff has been devoted to organizing public exhibitions of the treasured memorabilia in conjunction with Lucas Licensing Ltd., another unit of Lucasfilm. “Since we are a private collection that does not have the facilities to be able to be open to the public, we try to take part in well-organized public museum exhibitions when possible,” Anoveros says. In the last several years there have been two very popular separate exhibitions in Japan and one in San Francisco. There was even an amazing three-day exhibit at the Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Denver last May.

But the real attention getter was the year-long National Air and Space Museum’s Star Wars: The Magic of Myth, which is currently on a two year tour of U.S. museums organized by SITES. Coming up in April in London is a similarly ambitious exhibition, The Art of Star Wars, at the Barbican Art Centre.

“Currently, the exhibitions have been taking 90% of our time,” Anoveros says. “Of course, that slows down once the exhibit goes up, but when you’re moving 250 objects, that takes a lot of time. We work with the organizing institution in terms of developing exhibit plans and guidelines, and we give suggestions of what we think might work. We think we know our fans and what they expect to see. It’s a continuous dialog to develop the curatorial point of view, and we participate actively with them in selecting the objects.”

High on Anoveros’s agenda is better maximizing her existing space as the calendar pages keep turning. Before too long, she’s going to be getting a telephone call from Episode II Producer Rick McCallum: “Paloma, I’ve got a bunch of stuff for you to take a look at!”

Inside the Holocron – Designing a Sith Lord

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Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

The design of the villains from the original Star Wars trilogy – from Darth Vader to the Emperor to the Stormtroopers – came to become icons for evil itself in popular culture. When it came time to design Darth Maul, the major new villain in The Phantom Menace, the concept artists of Episode I had a tough act to follow.

Episode I Concept Designer Iain McCaig recalled the daunting task. “George Lucas had described Darth Maul as a figure from your worst nightmare. So… I drew George my worst nightmare.”

“At the time, my worst nightmare was this,” McCaig confides. “I’m inside a room during a thunderstorm. The hours pass by and I suddenly become aware that there’s a lifeless face pressed against the window. It’s dead, but it’s alive, staring at me through the rain. I drew something like that for George–adding metal teeth…and blood red ribbons falling over the face instead of rain. When George saw it, he quickly turned the drawing over. “Okay,” he said, “Now draw me your second worst nightmare…'”

That happened to be clowns, but we’ll come back to that.

Because Episode I had a full three years of pre-production, an almost unheard of length of time for a feature film, McCaig spent a lot of time drawing masks trying to compete with the original design for Darth Vader by Ralph McQuarrie. “What Ralph came up with was perfect,” McCaig said. “Part skull. Part Nazi helmet. I tried everything I could think of to better it before eventually throwing in the towel.”

The breakthrough for Maul came when McCaig began trying to turn other members of the Episode I Art Department into Sith Lords. “That’s really where my character designs come from-personalities, and not just ideas dropped on top of a generic somebody,” McCaig smiled. “So I took David Dozoretz, the head of our animatics group, and I drew him with this incredible mask, and all you saw were his eyes poking through. Just for the heck of it, because I wanted David to see his own face, I included a picture beside it with the mask off. Because it was David, I put a circuit board on this face.”

When Lucas saw the drawing, he was intrigued by the circuit board idea. McCaig continued along those lines, conscripting the likeness of Episode I’s production photographer, Greg Gawlowski, peeling pieces out of him like he was a pumpkin. “It’s always a balancing act” McCaig recalls. “Greg is such a soft-spoken, gentle soul that he was the perfect foil for the Sith’s evil. I put a glowing orange light inside him,” McCaig recalls, “and George liked that even more.”

McCaig’s next “victim” was Production Designer Gavin Bocquet whom McCaig said, “has a sweet face – but can look quite evil if you get him in the right light.” McCaig struggled with the illustration, but didn’t want to give up on it. “There was white-out all over it. There was marker on top of the white-out. I got a knife and carved into it, and finally when I was done…I hated it. With pieces of tape I eliminated everything that wasn’t working…and was left with a kind of Rorschach pattern on his face. And that DID work. And I knew. When you’ve got a drawing and you’ve found it…a little light comes on. So I showed that to George, and he felt the same way. We were on the right track at last.

McCaig started looking for similar patterns in real life. It proved to be a simple task. “If you were to strip the flesh off your face right now… the muscles would form a Darth Maul-ish pattern. The idea of a flayed flesh face was both beautiful and frightening to me. In addition, there are markings on all kinds of dangerous animals: snakes, tigers, wasps-a dark black stripe on top of red or yellow is often a warning sign to other animals to keep away. Defenseless animals will even adopt this pattern to scare others off.”

Similar markings could be found in human culture as well. “I looked at a lot of African tribes,” McCaig said. “Some of the face-painting seemed quite frightening: blood-red and shiny. It looked like the owners had hit their heads real hard.”

“Of course, it really all comes back to clowns. Clowns have always scared the pants off me. Who knows what they’re feeling behind those painted smiles? I’ve had nightmares about Bozo the Clown since I was three.”

McCaig also created a series of real Rorschach designs by dropping ink onto paper, folding it in half, then opening it up, until he found just the direction he was looking for. “I still have all those. A bunch of splattered ink patterns. The final pattern was a mixture of those, my research, and my own bizarreness.”

In the end, McCaig used his own face for the final design for Darth Maul. “I know my own evils and darkness better that anyone else’s,” he said.

As a final touch, McCaig sought to balance the beastliness of the head with a little beauty. “To balance a design as horrible as a flayed-flesh head, you might give it a soft hood… or long, flowing hair… or, in this case, feathers. These were beautiful black feathers, bound like Native American prayer totems to a length of piano wire. And every morning I imagined Darth Maul would get up and bind his head with this piano wire, and that the feathers had to end up at the right points-it was just a part of the focusing of the Sith.” Nick Dudman, Creature Effects Supervisor, and his crew later interpreted those feathers as horns.

For McCaig, a character’s costume is not an after-thought, but an integral part to the design of any character. “I had done a costume that reflected the peeled flesh thing, so the costume was also dissected into muscles patterns,” he said. “The first costume was quite big-making him larger than life. He had Batman spikes sticking outside of his neck. For most of the storyboarding, that was his costume. But George kept referring to the Sith-Jedi battle as a cockfight, with a lot of spinning and jumping-and I realized what a waste it was to have him in this tight body suit.”

Once again looking to nature, McCaig noticed a trend for large manes and features that flare up when attacking. Consulting with Costume Designer Trisha Biggar, he devised something similar to Samurai pleats, “so that when he spins, they can all flay out to the side.”

Given the challenging task of creating a villain to hold his own in a universe with Darth Vader, McCaig is pleased with the positive reaction to Darth Maul. “It’s funny,” McCaig reflects, “some drawings are just different from the other ones…they stand out even from the beginning as icons. That’s where we are with Episode II right now – looking for the new icons.”

Inside the Holocron – At First Glance

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At First Glance
John Knoll on Creating the Opening of Episode I

In 1977, when audiences throughout North America sat down in darkened theaters to watch Star Wars for the first time, these ten words, in tall blue letters, flashed on the screen as the very first shot of the movie. There are many different ways to open the front door of a film and invite moviegoers to step inside: introductory words from a narrator, a long shot of a landscape that sets up both the location and the tone of the story that is about to be told, or two characters interacting in a way that reveals their personalities and the relationship that binds them together. For Star Wars, George Lucas had chosen to make use of printed text: first some titles and then a few concise paragraphs, scrolling upward against a star field. To Lucas it was the best way to draw the audience in and begin to tell his story in medias res, bypassing the standard movie exposition by the use of a medium that, since the advent of the talking picture, usually belongs outside the sphere of cinema.

Lucas’ technique worked very well, drawing the audience right into the action, and he used it again to introduce the two subsequent Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Each time, the only variable that changed was the text itself – every other detail remained untouched, as if the audience were simply flipping through the pages of a book, reading one chapter after the other, moving forward along one continuous storyline.

This consistency was important to help maintain a sense of continuity throughout the saga – and it still holds true sixteen years after the classic Trilogy came to a conclusion. During post-production on the new chapter of the story, Episode I, Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll needed to make sure that the traditional roll-up looked exactly like it did in its previous incarnations. Once again, those words would be the first sight caught by moviegoers when Episode I opened on May 19th, 1999, and the overture of chapter 1 would naturally be expected to look no different than the other chapters of the big storybook.

“For the classic Trilogy,” explains Knoll, “a high contrast film of the text was laid out flat on a long lightbox (a transparent table lit from underneath), with a camera set up on rails running parallel to the lightbox. The camera was controlled by a computer to make sure the scrolling speed remained constant: that’s what we call a ‘motion-control camera’. To create the illusion of text disappearing on the horizon, the special effects guys tilted the camera at an angle and ran it down the track. A star field was later optically added to complete the footage.” This effective procedure was used to create the opening of all three classic movies.

Now that digital technology has replaced several of the traditional techniques, Knoll and his team had a lot of flexibility in the preparation of the roll-up for Episode I. But the many variables involved in the classic roll-ups needed to be duplicated exactly before Knoll could start using computers to create the opening of the new Star Wars movie. Even though the technique has absolutely nothing to do with its predecessor, everything seen on screen needed to match what had appeared in the classic Trilogy.

“The problem was that nobody took precise notes when they were shooting those sequences,” says Knoll. “So it turned out that almost every element had to be matched by eye.” Knoll started by solving the font enigma. “We knew that three different fonts had been used,” he says, “the same trio for all three classic Trilogy movies: one font for ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…’, another font for the title of the movie itself, at the top of the roll-up, and yet another one for the body of the text. But we had to identify those fonts.” To achieve this, Knoll sent samples of the old roll-ups to the Art Department of Industrial Light & Magic, where resident typography experts started combing their manuals. The culprits were soon identified.

“But that’s just one of the mysteries,” comments Knoll. “The next step was to figure out what type of lens had been used to shoot the sequences.” Using a different lens would change the aspect of the image. “Luck smiled at me on this one,” continues Knoll. “I managed to get a hold of Peter Daulton, who had been Assistant Cameraman on Jedi. He believed what I was looking for was a 24 mm lens, and sure enough, my 24 mm computer lens matched the shots from the classic roll-ups.”

The speed at which the text travels from the bottom to the top of the screen also needed to be an absolute match. “What I did for this one,” says Knoll, “is watch one of the existing roll-ups, and count the frames between the moment when one line of text breaks the bottom edge of the frame, and the moment the next line does.” This told Knoll exactly how fast the opening needed to flash by in Episode I.

Two more delicate adjustment had to be done “by eye”, the first one being color. “We laid out several different color samples, and compared them to the old roll-ups,” explains Knoll. “It was only a matter of choosing the one shade that was exactly like what they had used in the classic Trilogy.” The last variable, the tilt angle, was tracked down using a similar, old-fashioned technique. “I used a scanned frame from the Star Wars crawl as a background image, and simply tilted the camera until the perspective lines matched,” Knoll says.

Once all the basic elements were found, Knoll and his team still didn’t have it easy. There was more to it than simply inputting the data in a computer. Back-lit text shot with a conventional camera produces a very natural effect, whereas virtual objects that only exist within a computer’s electronic brain behave differently. “We had to create three-dimensional models of the letters,” says Knoll, “so that they look as sharp up-close as they do from a distance, and they also disappear on the horizon with the correct 3D perspective.”

With this done, only one finishing touch remained. “The star field was actually pretty straightforward,” Knoll says. “We use a synthetic star field generator. I picked one shot from Empire, in which I thought the stars looked particularly good, and we used this as our master guide.” This ensured that everything would look its best: the distance between two tiny points of light, the relative brightness of the stars, and so on. “Truly random star fields don’t always look right,” says Knoll. From that point onward, every time a shot needed a star field – and not only for the opening roll-up – a starry background was generated, based on Knoll’s template.

It is common for effects shots that appear on screen for only a few seconds to require a massive amount of work. But for an effect whose transition to the digital age seems so immediate, the number of steps involved can be surprising. “No matter how technologically advanced moviemaking instruments have become, they remain tools,” comments Producer Rick McCallum. “And as tools, they will always need artists to wield them, and their creative visions to lead the way. To us, there is no greater example of such an artist than John Knoll. Whatever the problem we throw at him, he’ll never fail to come up with a solution that not only meets the technical requirements or limitations of the project, but also makes sense within the overall storytelling. Hand the impossible to John, and he’ll crack it.”