Welcome to the Homing Beacon Archives. The Official Newsletter of Star Wars.Com, no longer available. I have salvaged as much as I can but have only concentrated on the main part of the newsletter and not the peripheral stuff. I have used images where possible. Enjoy this blast from the past!
Thursday, December 23, 2003
Sing Carols with C-3PO and R2-D2
What do droids, Chewbacca, legendary disco producer Meco and rocker Jon Bon Jovi have in common? They all celebrate the holidays on Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album. With memorable tunes such as “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” and C-3PO’s retelling ofa sci-fi infused “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the album is a quirky addition to any holiday music collection. In fact, the record was so sought after by collectors, that in 1996 Rhino records and Lucasfilm, Ltd. decided to re-release Christmas in the Stars for eager fans.
The album’s story takes place in a droid factory where robots trudge away at building toys year round for S. Claus. However they don’t understand the meaning of Christmas until C-3PO and R2-D2 show them how to appreciate the holiday spirit. Even Artoo adds to the season festivities by learning how to whistle the catchy Christmas ditty, “Sleigh Ride.” Later we learn who gets what from their wish list: a scarf for Luke Skywalker, perfume for Princess Leia and earmuffs for Han Solo.
Recorded in 1980, many of the album’s songs were written by Maury Yeston, a Yale University music professor and composer. Producer Meco Monardo, who already topped the charts with his best-selling disco albumsStar Wars And Other Galactic Funk and Encounters of Every Kind, envisioned and supervised the unusual project.
British actor Anthony Daniels lent his voice to reprise his role as C-3PO and Lucasfilm’s sound artist Ben Burtt provided the sound effects of R2-D2 and Chewbacca.
However, the most trivia-worthy album liner note is the debut of a then 18-year-old Jon Bon Jovi, who ends up singing with a high school choir on “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” At the time the album was in production, Jon Bon Jovi , then known as John Bongiovi, swept floors and did odd jobs at the famous New York City recording studio Power Station, ran by Jon’s cousin Tony Bongiovi. As Meco auditioned singers for Christmas in the Stars, Tony suggested Jon for one of the lead vocal parts, and the rest is caroling history. Soon after Jon’s singing debut, he recorded his own demo at the Power Station which included a hit song called “Runaway.” The single eventuallylead to a deal with Mercury in 1983.
Even though Christmas in the Stars did not lead to a series of additional Star Wars holiday-themed albums as Meco initially had planned, the album still remains a favorite among movie and music collectors alike.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
CG That’s More Than Skin Deep
Through its use of digital doubles performing hazardous stunts or synthetic characters like Yoda the Jedi Master, Episode III will continue to blaze new ground in the development of believable computer-generated organic characters. One of the tools Industrial Light & Magic uses is subsurface scattering rendering — a technique that was in early development for Episode II, and one that has garnered recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On February 14, Christophe Hery will represent ILM in receiving a special certificate of merit from the Academy as part of the 76th annual Academy Awards.
The technical award Hery will accept is one of nine that the Academy will give this year and represents a major leap forward in the effort to create photo-realistic images on screen. While Hery started working on subsurface scattering during the production of Attack of the Clones, the technique wasn’t perfected in time to use on the digital characters in that film. Instead, the public saw ILM’s first use of the technique on Dobby the Elf in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, later in 2002.
“The idea is to simulate the effect of translucency and depict how light penetrates inside the skin and scatters around the different tissues, then comes out at different points,” Hery explains. “Traditionally in computer graphics, we’ve followed the idea that light shines on a particular point and bounces off the same point. Subsurface scattering allows light to go into a certain point and come out in different places. It opens the door to all different kinds of materials in computer graphics — especially skin,” he says.
For a simple example of the natural effect that subsurface scattering replicates, hold your hand up to a bright light and notice how light shines through your skin and creates reddish and yellow glows. That kind of detail, which was previously missing from CG techniques, is what subsurface scattering brings to digitally rendered characters.
Although the process was first used more than a year ago, the Academy carefully reviewed submissions for their merit before deciding which of the 14 submissions would receive an award. Thanks to ILM’s work with subsurface scattering in films like The Hulk and the use of similar techniques by other visual effects companies to create successful digital characters, the last two years of film production have demonstrated that it is becoming increasingly possible to make photorealistic humans and other creatures with translucent elements such as skin, Hery says.
“It’s possible to make these look like they belong to the world around them,” he says. “We forget that what nature is doing is very complex. All the time (in computer graphics) you’re pushing the envelope, you have to go to the next level. This is just one component — one big component — of rendering human skin.”
Thursday, February 05, 2004
Digital Digits: VFX By The Numbers
Industrial Light & Magic is still gearing up to take on the bulk of visual effects requirements for Episode III, but here’s a numerical snapshot of where they stand as of February 4, 2004.
Total number of shots: 2,000
Client Finals (final shots as approved by George Lucas): 37
Final Omits: 1
Shots Turned over to ILM: 809
Finals needed per week: 32
Weeks to go: 61
Shots left to go: 1,963
Length of the opening shot, from after the crawl to the first cut (in frames): 3,768
For continued coverage of the postproduction process, be sure to check out the Post Notes article that appears regularly at starwars.com Hyperspace.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Late Night with Mark Hamill
“My idea of fun on a talk show is being in a world of comedy and performance rather than being a guest,” says Mark Hamill. The actor behind Luke Skywalker proudly displays his preference for performance over dry talking heads in his directorial debut, the not-quite-cinema-verité documentary, Comic Book: The Movie. Insomniac Star Wars fans could have glimpsed seeds of this straight-faced make-believe approach to comedy in the mid-1980s, on NBC’s popular “Late Night With David Letterman.”
“[Late Night writer] Chris Elliott lived in my neighborhood, and I was a big Letterman fan,” recalls Hamill. “I used to say to him that I wish Dave’s show had no guests, because I like the comedy better than hearing somebody talk about their latest movie.”
Hamill was slated to appear as a guest during the height of Return of the Jedi mania, but when viewers tuned in that night, it appeared the actor was overbooked. He instead appeared “live via satellite” from Episode VI’s Royal Premiere in London. Letterman conducted the unconventional interview over a monitor, but stopped when he noticed recognizable members of the Late Night band walking behind Hamill. Intrigued, the host stepped over to the hallway next to the set, and found a sheepish Hamill standing in the hallway talking to a camera. Caught in a fib, Hamill confessed that his presence was not requested for the Premiere, and instead “they just wanted the aliens and the robots.”
“I jumped at the chance to do that bit,” says Hamill. “Dave doesn’t do rehearsals, so when we went on the air, it was the first time he did that line. I say to him, ‘Don’t be mad, Dave.’ And he replies, ‘I’m not so much as mad … as I am disappointed.'”
Another appearance of the same vintage came about as a response to a Viewer Mail segment. An inquisitive fan wanted to know how a guest in a cooking segment managed to crack an egg with one hand. To explain the highly technical effect, Letterman handed it over to Hamill, who appeared in a pre-recorded segment delving into the magic of ILM special effects.
“I thought it was reallyfunny, because it was satirizing those ‘Making Of’ specials,” says Hamill. “What I loved about it was the unbelievably elaborate explanation of something that was so simple. ‘First the hand is shot against bluescreen. Later an egg is added optically. Squibs are added to the egg…’ I loved that.”
A string of appearances on the “Late Night” was made possible by Hamill being busy in New York theater at the time. “They’d shoot at 5:30, so they’d be done by 6:30. I’d be in the theater district, but I wouldn’t have to be in the theater until 7:30 for my show at 8. It worked out beautifully. I must have done at least a half-a-dozen of those before I overstayed my welcome,” he says with a laugh. “I realized that somewhere along the line I got replaced by Tony Randall.”
Thursday, March 04, 2004
Clone Wars Season 2 Voices
Issue #98 of the Homing Beacon introduced readers to many of the voice actors performing in the first installment of the Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series. With the second season of ten episodes coming this month, here’s a look at some of the new vocal talents and characters to be featured.
Returning as main characters are Mat Lucas as Anakin Skywalker, James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Tom Kane as Yoda. Grey De Lisle is once again Padmé Amidala and Asajj Ventress. She will add Shaak Ti to her list of characters, as the beautifully exotic alien Jedi Master appears in the final episode.
Kevin Michael Richardson will provide the voice of the tusked Whiphid Jedi, K’Kruhk. He has leant his voice to Star Wars video games in the past, portraying Mace Windu and Eeth Koth in games such as Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles. He is the voice of Jolee Bindo in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. He can also be heard as Deus Ex Machina in The Matrix: Revolutions.
Daran Norris, who voiced Durge in the first season, will play Jedi Masters Ki-Adi-Mundi and Daakman Barrek. Norris plays Mr. Turner on “The Fairly Odd Parents,” and he can be seen in Mark Hamill’s Comic Book: The Movie as an ersatz Commander Courage.
Playing Luminara Unduli is Cree Summer. Her distinctive voice is often recognized as Penny from the “Inspector Gadget” series, and she was on-camera on “A Different World” as Freddie. She has a connection to the animated Star Wars universe, providing the voice of Princess Kneesaa in the first season of “Ewoks.”
Tatyana Yassukovich plays Barriss Offee. She can be heard as the voice of the storyteller in 2000’s Chocolat.
Andre Sogliuzzo returns to play Captain Typho. The actor also provides the voice of all the clone troopers, the ARC troopers, and the battle droids. He also provided the voice of the clones in LucasArts’ Star Wars: Clone Wars video game.
Known to many fans as the voice of Bender on “Futurama,” John DiMaggio not only plays a Padawan in the micro-series, but is also the menacing voice of General Grievous in the series. General Grievous is an Episode III character who makes his debut in the final episode of Star Wars: Clone Wars. Don’t expect much in common between Grievous and Bender though. The General of the droid army isn’t likely to invite any Jedi to bite his shiny metal posterior.
Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series begins again on March 26 on the Cartoon Network, and online on starwars.com Hyperspace, with exclusive audio commentary by creator Genndy Tartakovsky.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Continuing a tradition that began way back in 1997, illustrators Hans Jenssen and Richard Chasemore, along with senior art editor John Kelly, traveled across the ocean from England to California, spending a week at Skywalker Ranch. The two talented artists and intrepid book designer were visiting the Art Department last week to examine the many vehicles and elements that they will illustrate for the forthcoming Episode III Incredible Cross-Sections book, due out in 2005 by DK Publishing to coincide with the film’s release.
“Seven years ago…” reflects Jenssen, taken slightly aback after doing the math. “That’s when we cut our teeth doing the classic book. And then the Episode I vehicles book was the next one we did.” After the original trilogy and Episode I Incredible Cross-Section books, both artists went on to do similar books for Episode I locations, and Episode II vehicles and locations.
In those seven years, much has changed. Chasemore and Jenssen have had the unique opportunity to work closely with the designers of the prequels, and Episode III brings the evolution of technology and industrial design to the point closest to the original trilogy.
“Everything’s different now, particularly the way we get our reference,” says Chasemore. “We’re here getting angles, reference, finding out what’s been produced and what hasn’t. We’ve been allowed to have the actual digital models this time, which is new.” By basing their illustrations from digital concept models, the artists will be able to ensure an unprecedented accuracy in their eventual exploded-view illustrations of various Episode III vessels.
“One of the most valuable things of our visit is to be able to talk to the guys in the Art Department who designed all this stuff,” says Jenssen. “We’re able to talk about their ideas, and find out what their rationale was — or lack of rationale, whichever is the case — and making shapes of the ships.”
In addition to working with Ryan Church and Erik Tiemens, the Episode III Concept Design Supervisors, Chasemore and Jenssen have perused the Episode III Visual Script, a hefty white binder containing a chronological compendium of vehicles, characters and hardware in the film, presented scene-by-scene.
“I think there’s more varied vehicles of varying sizes, and a lot of things with big guns on it, which is always good,” says Chasemore. The two artists work together to divvy up the vehicles. Simplifying the process is the precedent of the other films and their previous cross-section illustrations.
“It’s usually quite obvious,” says Chasemore. “If Hans has already worked on a vehicle, and we’re seeing a newer or older version, we tend to do what we did in the past, so that evolution of technology is in the right style.”
This book will focus on vehicles, their preferred subject matter compared to the much more complex locations. “Locations easily swallow up 500 hours to 600 hours of work, while the biggest vehicle is about 400 hours at the most,” says Chasemore.
“You can scoot through the less complex vehicles in about 200 or 250 hours or so,” adds Jenssen.
That said, their proudest work can be found in the Insidethe Worlds of… book devoted to the original trilogy locales. Penned by James Luceno, this book is due for release this fall from DK, and peeks through the walls of such familiar locales as the Mos Eisley cantina, Echo Base, and the Emperor’s throne room.
“I finished that project about a week before I came out here,” says Chasemore. “That’s going to be the best book; it’s just awesome.”
Both Chasemore and Jenssen are scheduled to be guests at Jedi-Con 2004, running April 9-11 in Düsseldorf, Germany. They have secured permission to show some of their upcoming original trilogy work at the convention, providing fans with a first glimpse at some of their favorite pieces.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
The London Office
By Pablo Hidalgo
The Star Wars prequels have shot around the world, with Australia becoming the home base for principal photography for both Episodes II and III. Throughout the years, a crew from JAK Productions has maintained a London office at the famous Elstree Studios, as much of the behind-the-scenes talent calls the UK their home.
“I think a lot of people are surprised by how much work generates from here,” says Polly Leach, a Production Coordinator in the London Office. “There’s a very firm stronghold of the Lucasfilm and Star Wars empire in England.”
Crucial pre-production and planning stages occur in London for each episode, long before shooting actually began. Many of the key team members are JAK veterans, dating all the way back to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. “The Production Art Department and Costume Department were pretty busy over there, at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003,” says Leach. “Gavin Bocquet had a whole Art Department set up at Elstree Studios, with a lot of models and speeders for George to approve. Likewise, Trisha Biggar does a lot of her fabric buying in London, and she was buying non-stop to prepare for Episode III.”
With half a world dividing the preproduction and production headquarters, coordinators on both ends needed to work closely to ensure that everything — and everyone — arrived in Sydney and returned to London intact. Heading up the Production Office in Sydney was Virginia Murray, Production Coordinator. Leach stayed at Elstree, until the end of the shoot, when she flew over to Sydney to coordinate the return trip.
“I get the feeling that George Lucas and Rick McCallum are terribly fond of the United Kingdom, and it is so nice that Rick keeps a base here,” says Leach. One of her main functions during her stay in Sydney was to serve as Asset Supervisor, collating all the information about three movies’ worth of props, costumes, vehicles and more. “I helped Rick find a home for them, for the things he doesn’t need for pick-ups.”
The Production Office in Syndey coordinated the inclusion of a starwars.com presence on the set — in the form of daily from-the-set updates and a live webcam. Plans are in the works to try to bring the same Hyperspace access to the brief stint of additional photography in the UK this August.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Sansweet’s Summer Star Wars Tour
This summer, fans can catch a true insider’s glimpse into what’s up in the Star Wars galaxy, straight from Steve Sansweet, head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Just as the Star Wars saga has grown to be a vital force in popular culture through the years, Sansweet and his Star Wars presentations have become a part of popular convention culture. Fans who attend will enjoy a look into the making of the highly-anticipated Star Wars Episode III. Sansweet will also share insights into the DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy, scheduled for this September, as well as news on other special events on the horizon.
Sansweet just returned from sharing a presentation with a large and enthusiastic group of fans at Jedi-Con IV in Düsseldorf, Germany the weekend of April 9-11. As he continues traveling to conventions this summer, he will continue to update his presentations. Fans never know when to expect a new surprise or two along the way.
Exciting visuals, audience questions, Lucasfilm answers — these not-to-be-missed presentations are planned for the following conventions this summer:*
WonderCon April 30, May 1 & 2, Moscone Center, San Francisco
Star Wars Encuentros July 16-18, World Trade Center, Mexico City
Comic-Con International July 21 – 25, San Diego Convention Center
Wizard World Chicago August 13-15, Rosemont Convention Center
GenCon Game Fair August 19-22, Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis
Dragon*Con September 3-6, Atlanta, Georgia
*Schedule is subject to change. Please keep checking starwars.com for the latest updates, specific times, dates, and locations.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
The Hyperspace Horizon
By now Star Wars fans know that the Official Star Wars Fan Club and starwars.com Hyperspace have merged into one, offering the greatest Star Wars experience ever for subscribers. A year’s subscription includes a unique membership kit, six issues of the new-and-improved Star Wars Insider, as well as all the exclusive online content that current subscribers have been enjoying since the launch of Hyperspace in June of 2003. (Click here for more details!)
“Hyperspace subscribers have had a great year of unprecedented inside access and the response has been great,” says Director of Lucas Online, Paul Ens. “Now that Hyperspace is the online component of a larger Fan Club experience, we’re looking forward to new opportunities to make that fan experience even better this year.”
Episode III is what fans are most interested in, and the final Star Wars film will continue to be the focus for both Insider and starwars.com Hyperspace in 2004-2005. “Right now, we’re planning on webcam coverage of the additional round of shooting in August, as well as bringing back the Set Diaries direct from London,” says Ens.
In the meantime, subscribers can look forward to an inside look at a big Lucasfilm event planned for this summer. “Hyperspace really became ‘the-next-best-thing-to-being-there’ during Sydney, and we want to continue that during the convention season,” says Ens. “That’s why we’re working on letting subscribers in on some of the surprises that will be unveiled this summer at Lucasfilm’s big Comic-Con presence. If you can’t make it to San Diego, then tuning into starwars.com Hyperspace is the next best thing.”
One of the new features for 2004 is a brand new Episode III photo series unlike any previously run on the site. “It’s quite different as it’s very interactive, and it will allow users to explore some of the Episode III production environments in a new way,” says Ens.
“A key element to Star Wars’ success has always been the collective experience, be it waiting in line, watching the movie in a packed theater, creating new adventures with action figures, gathering at a Star Wars Celebration or knowing you’re reading the same Star Wars novel as thousands of other fans at the same time,” says Ens.
“The internet has redefined what the concept of a community can be, and it only makes sense for the Official Fan Club to embrace and facilitate this important aspect of being a fan. This fall, look for new ways for fans to reach out to other fans, spotlight their fan groups, or share their creativity or opinions with their local and global communities.
“Naturally, look for Hyperspace to tie-in closely with this fall’s Episode III teaser trailer and Star Wars Trilogy release on DVD,” says Ens, “and making those landmark events even better for our members. Plenty of other surprises are also in store… stay tuned.”
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Attack of the Cloned Actors
Star Wars wouldn’t be the Star Wars without its various species and unusual creatures that dominate the screen. No one understands the importance of latex masks, fake appendages and creepy eyes than Episode III Creature Shop Creative Supervisor, Dave Elsey.
“We create anything that’s not human — all of the aliens basically,” Elsey explains. “This includes anything that has any appendages, horns, contact lenses, teeth, and eyes — right up to full suits and animatronics.”
When an actor who must undergo prosthetic makeup first arrives on the Episode III set, he or she will meet Elsey and his team and then prepare the daunting undertaking of being cloned — that is, having a duplicate made of their faces.
“Usually our initial dealing with the actor is when they arrive and meet us for the first time, we shake hands, and then we get them to strip down and wrap them in plastic and put bald caps on their heads,” Elsey explains. “Then we take what is called a ‘life cast,’ which is a plaster cast of their heads. Actually, it’s quite a good ice breaker, because the first thing we do is dump a load of gunge on their head and we use a material called alginate, which is used for dental casts. We basically mix up a bucket of that and we completely cover their heads in that material, then we back that up with plaster bandages and open it up and we make plaster casts. These casts have to be very, very detailed for what we’re doing — literally every skin pore has to be in the right place.”
These casts serve as stand-ins for the real faces during the time-consuming sculpting phase. The artists in the Creature Shop build their material atop the casts, so that when their masks are finalized, they will fit perfectly to an actor’s features. When the pieces of prosthetic makeup are ready to go on the actor, he orshe will often sit in the makeup chair for hours as Elsey’s team carefully place each piece in its exact place.
“It’s good for the actor, because he gets to sit there and watch the whole thing develop from the makeup chair, right from scratch, because he has no idea really what’s going to happen up until that point.” In one unusual instance, Elsey and his team were asked to create an exact duplicate of Ewan McGregor as Jedi MasterObi-Wan Kenobi, which was later nicknamed Foamy-Wan Kenobi.
“When the scripts arrived it seemed that Hayden Christensen was going to be carrying around Ewan for days on the shoot, and we didn’t want Hayden to put his back out straight away as soon as he started production. So we made a lightweight version that looks exactly like Ewan. It’s going to be a very interesting collector’s piece by the end of the movie,” Elsey chuckles.