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. Enjoy this blast from the past!
Thursday, June 01, 2000
Episode II — By The Numbers
As producer for Episode II, Rick McCallum constantly has to juggle numbers to make sure the movie is done on time and on budget. Here’s a look at some of the numbers being crunched during these final weeks before production begins. Hundreds — Number of people Stunt Coordinator Nick Gillard is looking at for potential stunt roles 300 — Number of workers currently involved in construction.24 — Hours a day sets are in construction.1,200 — Costumes to be created, similar to the number crafted for The Phantom Menace.”A lot” — The number of different new looks for Natalie Portman, according to Rick McCallum.
Thursday, June 15, 2000
The Animatics Department
Returning to Episode II is David Dozoretz, the Previsualization/Visual Effects Supervisor who leads the team of animatics artists crafting a rough, temporary version of the movie.
Much has been said about how George Lucas’ non-linear approach to filmmaking is continually blurring the lines between such formerly distinct phases as pre-production, production and post-production. The work of the Animatics Department is a perfect example of this:
Pre-Production: “We’re closely related to what the Art Department does,” says Dozoretz. “We get to be the first group of artists to implement those fabulous designers’ work. We’re constantly getting information from them about what designs look like. We occasionally throw info back up to them, where if they need to do a storyboard or concept painting, we’ll help place things for them and compose the frame, because we have the ability to do that really quickly since we’ve got 3-D models.”
Production: Once shooting begins in Australia, the all-digital nature of Episode II’s production will allow Dozoretz’s team to utilize the footage immediately. “We will be able to incorporate dailies,” he says, though that will not be the Animatics Department’s primary focus. While Lucas’ crew gathers the necessary performances on-camera, “we’ll be back here at Skywalker Ranch doing design work on other sequences in the film, specifically action sequences,” says Dozoretz. “There are a couple of really really big action sequences which are primarily going to be done with digital technology, and very little of that will be shot during principal photography.”
Post-Production: “One of the great things about Episode II is a lot of the design work that we do in the animatics phase will cross over into ILM, so there’s no repetition of work,” says Dozoretz. The team does use some of the computer generated models crafted by Industrial Light & Magic. “Generally, ILM stuff is very high-end and very cumbersome because it’s so sophisticated,” he says. “We don’t use it too much, because we’re just trying to be very quick and rough and sketching stuff out. But we do use it sometimes, because obviously it’s the best models, the best animation and the best motion capture stuff.”
In most films, an editor’s work doesn’t start until after shooting has wrapped. Even before the cameras start capturing their digital images for Episode II, editor Ben Burtt has been hard at work cutting sequences together. “That’s my job right now,” says Burtt, “Cutting together these temporary shots, and doing shots with our own digital video camera, simple things, cutting them together to get a sense of how fast a sequence might flow, and how many shots are necessary to tell a story. And of course I’m able to think about sound at this point too. And I’ve got a list of things to record. I have ideas in mind for what they might sound like.”
Thursday, June 29, 2000
Co-Screenwriter Jonathan Hales
Although Jonathan Hales has had a professional relationship with Lucasfilm for the past ten years due to his involvement in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, his relationship with Star Wars began like most peoples.
“I remember taking my two very little boys to see Star Wars in a big cinema in London,” recounts Hales. “My kids were saying ‘Wow, Dad!’ and I was saying ‘Wow, boys!’ Now, I find myself [almost] 25 years later actually working on one, which is extraordinary. I love it. I mean, thats life.”
Hales is the co-screenwriter for the second chapter in the Star Wars saga, a role he finds both exhilarating and daunting. “My personal goal was to make it the best screenplay that ever was, so that it will be the best movie that ever was. You just do your very best,” Hales explains of his approach. “I tried to forget, in a way, that it was Star Wars, in a sense that I didn’t want to think Oh my God, there is a world out there waiting to see this stuff. I just tried to concentrate on it and what it was, and forget about that terrifying dimension thats out there.”
Episode II will add to the Star Wars saga, says Hales, but not just in the form of new characters, aliens, droids and locales. “It will add political complexity,” explains Hales, “but it will also add an interesting and a fascinating love story.”
Hales is scheduled to depart for Australia soon, to meet up with director George Lucas, who is currently filming there. “He and I will sit down and hell tell me what more thoughts hes had about the screenplay, and I will tidy that up,” explains Hales. “I shall only be there for a couple of weeks, anyway. Theres nothing more useless than a writer on a soundstage,” he adds dryly.
Hales also notes that his sons are pretty proud of their fathers involvement in Star Wars. “Theyre grown up now — theyre not little boys anymore; theyre quite big boys,” the writer laughs. “For the first time in their lives, they probably take me really serious as a writer now, because this is big stuff.”
Thursday, July 13, 2000
Episode II: Familiar Faces
Though Star Wars: Episode II will feature new worlds, new heroes, and new villains, fans will be heartened to know that many familiar favorites will be returning to that galaxy far, far away.
Once again providing the voice to the miserly Toydarian Watto is Andy Secombe. In Episode I, Watto was left the victim of his own gambling vice, having lost everything to Qui-Gon Jinn in the Jedi’s cleverly crafted bet. Now, moviegoers will revisit Watto on Tatooine a decade later, to see what has become of the junk-dealer.
Frank Oz defined the concept of a wise Jedi Master through his performance as Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and again in The Phantom Menace. The talented performer — a gifted and successful director in his own right — will reprise his role as Yoda, who promises to become more actively involved in the strife threatening the Republic.
When Anakin Skywalker was brought before the Jedi Council as a nine-year old, his thoughts dwelled on his mother. Pernilla August, who played the quiet, kind Shmi Skywalker in Episode I, will return.
Silas Carson donned many masks in The Phantom Menace, playing a variety of characters. Perhaps his most important one was that of Jedi Council member Ki-Adi-Mundi. Carson will return for Episode II to portray the Cerean Jedi.
For continuing developments of Episode II’s casting and production, be sure to regularly check the Official Site.
Thursday, July 27, 2000
Episode II: Metaphorically Speaking
How can one describe the energy, stress, excitement, frustration, and scope of being on set and making a new Star Wars movie? Some of the people involved in the production took a crack at it:
“Its like the big bang theory–a huge explosion which is eventually going to create something beautiful, but the only one who knows what its actually going to be is the creator of the explosion.”
– Ahmed Best, Actor
“Its like the traveling on the Titanic — its incredibly exciting and romantic and we wont know whether or not it will sink until the film comes out. Youre going along as the captain of the ship saying everything is fine and wonderful and not to worry, but you know as the captain of the ship that there are many icebergs and treacherous obstacles you have to cleverly weave your way through, without upsetting or disturbing the passengers.”
– George Lucas, Writer and Director
“A giant locomotive, fuelled by the imagination and energy of so many, powering its way inexorably across the galaxy — to a theater near you… Its like being in a giant vat of minestrone and only the chef knows whats in it … or perhaps like a lavish banquet but only the chef really knows whats on the menu; Id skip lunch if I were you.”
– Anthony Daniels, Actor
“Like me, its all about bits and pieces but Im sure it will be even greater than the sum of its parts … if you take my meaning, that is.”
– C-3PO, Protocol Droid
“This film set is like an ant colony. A walled city where frantic workers move in small circles towards a comparatively still center, breaking occasionally to exchange information about whos doing what and/or where the food is. Its even got a Queen at the center of things.”
– Lizzy Eves, Documentary Crew
“The making of Star Wars is like fine wine: It takes years for the grapes to grow, then theres a lot of effort from the winemakers put into crushing the grapes and making the wine, then it takes time to ferment. It really gets better with age and the quality of good wine will last for years.”
– Jill Goldberg, Personal Assistant
“My metaphor for making the movie is pretty much the same as the last one, which is an enormously huge train which takes a long time to get going and then reaches terminal velocity and heads towards a 14-foot concrete wall at maximum speed. So when were rolling about a year from now the trains going about 95 miles an hour and its flipping through the stations and nothing can stop it.”
– Rob Coleman, Animation Director
“Like going to one of those bars in the middle of Kentucky and getting on one of those electronic bull horses and just trying to hold on for dear life.”
– Julie DAntoni, Visual Effects Plate Coordinator
“You know Sisyphus, pushing that big rock up the hill endlessly? Thats what its like.”
– Tony Kaplan, Documentary Camera
“Its like standing at the bottom of a hill saving a small town from a landslide.”
– Giles Westley, Stills Photographer
“Walking onto the Fox Studios lot is like pressing play on a video game: you walk into a new environment in which you have no idea whats around the next corner, one day you have various species of aliens traveling past you on a golf cart, whilst looking in a room and seeing an environment of an entirely different spaceship and maneuvering your way skillfully through it … or stumbling across famous actors–when the sun comes out, out come players Samuel Jackson and Ewan McGregor fighting a duel on the grass quadrangle between the stages.”
– Joclyn McCahon, Stills Image Supervisor
“Its like a bizarre dream.”
– Katie Newman, Assistant Script Supervisor
“It’s like being Santas helper in a really big shopping mall.”
– Lisa Shaunessy, Assistant Publicity
Thursday, August 10, 2000
Graduating to Fox Studios
Many involved in the production of Episode II have likened the experience to school. Specifically, they cite Episode I as the freshman year, and now Episode II is the sophomore year. Much of that has to do with the fact that so many involved in the production have worked together in the past — through Episode I and through The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles before that. This is especially true of Production Designer Gavin Bocquet’s department.
“I think that probably amongst the people who have done it before, there is a sort of comfort blanket that came with doing the first one,” says Bocquet. “Doing the first Star Wars after doing Young Indy was a whole new experience to all of us. It was first thing ever of that size for us. I think we were probably unaware of the slight trepidation we all had while we were doing it. But obviously doing it a second time, you’re much more relaxed, even with doing it in another country.”
Bocquet and his crew are currently immersed in realizing an immense set in Fox Studios, Australia. “It’s a big environment,” he says, “which has a big ship in it. Probably the biggest ship, I think, full-size, that has been built. Probably even bigger than the old Millennium Falcon. We’re not building all of it, but we’re building a fair chunk.”
Although some on the crew are old hands at constructing the galaxy far, far away, there are many new Australian crewmembers working diligently to turn Lucas’ imagination into reality. This marks the first Star Wars film to be shot in Australia. The previous films, including Episode I, had their studio work done in facilities in England. Comparatively, the Australian film industry is younger than England’s. This meant that finding available crew with a certain level of experience was challenging.
“I think Rick McCallum is an incredibly sensible producer and understood that there are certain skills and experience lacking in Sydney, more on the Art Department side. Apart from the last two or three years they haven’t been used to building sets that big and that many at that speed,” explains Bocquet. “So we brought down a few skills in the Art Department, like the Art Directors and the head of paint, head of plaster, head of carpentry and construction, just to cover those. Underlying that, you have a very new, youthful business down here. There’s a great enthusiasm amongst the crew that comes with that.”
Bocquet adds, “I think we’ve hit the balance pretty well. Bringing people versed in Star Wars has a lot to do with continuity as well. You know a lot of our things are for Tatooine and Naboo, and to have people who have never been part of that in Art Department and Construction would have been quite a headache. I think if Episode III is done here, which I think it should be, then we will probably bring less people down.”
Thursday, August 24, 2000
While schedules have been tight, Sydney and the surrounding areas have provided wonderful opportunities for the cast and crew of Episode II to unwind and enjoy themselves during precious down-time. While many have enjoyed the shopping, the scenery and the culture, some are looking for something a little more dangerous.
Artoo-Detoo, returning in Episode II to one of his most famous roles, wrapped his work in Australia this week. Before moving on to location-shooting, the little droid received permission to seek some local thrills while he waits. “Artoo’s never been in better shape,” said Don Bies of Industrial Light & Magic. “He’s doing all of his own stunts in this film. None of us can keep up with his energy level. When he said he wanted to go bungee jumping, we knew there would be no stopping him.”
Artoo and a small entourage of translators and bodyguards traveled outside the Fox Studios lot to an adjacent bungee jumping attraction. While the droid was unavailable for comment after the jump, the smiles of the children and on-lookers who gathered were proof that the entertainer is still in top form after all these years.
Thursday, September 07, 2000
The Art Department: From Start to Finish
In response to a recent question to the Ask The Lucasfilm Jedi Council feature on the official site, Design Director Doug Chiang revealed that the Episode II Art Department is still busy at work even though the first phase of principal photography had wrapped in Australia.
This underscores a common misperception about the Art Department. In other films, an art department’s role is regarded as strictly pre-production — establishing the look of the film long before cameras roll. But the Episode II Art Department began work very early in the process, and continues work right through to the completion of the film, through pre-production, production, and post-production.
“The first day I worked on Episode II was about a week and a half before the release of Episode I,” explains Chiang. “Right when we finished Episode I, I thought we were all done and we were all going to take a break. But George [Lucas] came in during one of our last meetings and said, ‘Okay, let’s start Episode II now. Here’s some information. I want you to just start going with it.’ It was really interesting because I hadn’t realized he wanted to keep the ball going at that point.”
At the time, nearly all members of the Art Department for Episode I had gone on to other projects, leaving just Chiang. Chiang immediately brought Iain McCaig back to work on Episode II. “We just jumped right into it,” says Chiang. “There were some specific costumes that we needed, so Iain started to work on them. George already had in mind new planets, environments, vehicles and characters to develop, so my plate was full as well.”
By September of 1999, the Art Department grew to over fifteen members, and began its regular Friday meetings with Lucas. Working without the benefit of a script — the story was still developing at that stage — they were given the bulk of the design tasks at once — the characters, vehicles, and environments. “That continued all the way through until around January of this year,” explains Chiang. “At that point the focus slowly shifted because George was finalizing the script, and we needed to start focusing our designs toward the sets that Gavin [Bocquet] needed to build.”
The early months of pre-production established in broad strokes the style and look of Episode II. The months preceding principal photography saw a focus on more practical creations — the development and designs of sets, partial sets, and actual structures to be shot in the studio. Now, with production well underway, the Art Department has changed focus again. “In June we started to shift back to some of the other design needs for all the miniature and digital sets that were coming up,” says Chiang. “We had already defined the “global” look, and with the practical sets well under way, our next task was to integrate the two and create a coherent universe. This design integration occasionally changed, however, during principal photography as George updated certain sets and designs. In many cases, we needed to redesign the “global” look to incorporate these modifications.”
As the first unit continues production, the Art Department busily works away on storyboards and designs specific to the sequences being shot. Even before this phase of production is finished, the Art Department will again shift focus, this time turning to the miniature and digital designs required by Industrial Light & Magic to complete the film.
Thursday, September 21, 2000
So, What’s Next?
With the first phase of principle photography on Episode II expected to wrap this week, many fans want to know why the film isn’t scheduled for release sooner than the summer of 2002. What’s left to do? What could possibly take so long?
Most obviously, a film like Star Wars is rich in visual effects. Producer Rick McCallum has described the making of this new trilogy as making an entire live action film, then turning around and making an entire animated feature on top of it. ILM wizards John Knoll and Rob Coleman, among others, worked with the cast and crew on location of Episode II to gather all the information possible to assist them in the generation of the kind of seamless effects that Star Wars fans have come to expect. The ramp up of this enormous effort will be in full swing very soon in ILM’s California offices. They’re expecting to be working right up to the last minute in 2002, tweaking every conceivable detail.
Recently, both Doug Chiang and David Dozoretz answered Ask the Lucasfilm Jedi Council questions about the next year of planned activities of the art department and animatics team, respectively.
Editor Ben Burtt recently arrived back at Skywalker Ranch to tear in to the task of piecing Episode II together. Because the cameras used for principle photography were digital, Burtt was able to have access to footage immediately as the shoot progressed, putting together rough cuts of scenes using animatics, art department sketches and even temporary footage of action figures to fill in the gaps.
For filmmaker George Lucas, the editing room is where the movie comes together. “The way I work is that I cut the movie together, I look at it and figure out what’s missing,” Lucas said. “At that point, it’s more about how the movie flows together rather than how the script flows together. I’m acknowledging more and more that a script and a movie are two different things.”
For this reason, time has already been scheduled for the spring of 2001 for capturing additional footage. While most major motion pictures build in a few days of “reshoots”, this second round is actually more of an extension of the original principle photography for Episode II. There, any holes or improvements suggested by the initial edit will be filled in.
As always, starwars.com and the Homing Beacon will continue to be your source for the official word on how Episode II is progressing right up to opening day. Stay tuned.
Thursday, October 05, 2000
Reflections on Episode II Most visitors to the Official Star Wars website know Lynne Hale as the host of Lynne’s Diaries, the multi-part documentary that covered the making of Episode I. For Episode II, Hale was on set throughout production, handling a seemingly countless number of tasks day in and day out in her capacity as Director of Communications for Lucasfilm Ltd.
“These past few months have been extremely hectic but exciting,” recalls Hale. “Episode II was quite a different experience from Episode I. I learned a lot of new expressions such as ‘good on you’ and ‘he’s good value.’” The lessons learned on the Episode I shakedown cruise came in handy for this production, as many of the first time ventures three years ago were now old hat. “At the start of Episode I, the digital still department which kept track of all the photography was just starting and therefore had a rocky road with technical difficulties. This time around, though, it ran as smooth as silk.”
Technological innovations abounded throughout the production, making a lot of lives easier. “Of course shooting with the digital camera was a big change from Episode I,” explains Hale. “It was great to see the scenes on such a large screen and to be able to capture images directly off the monitor.”
A particular highlight, recalls Hale, was working with the assembled cast as the action played out in Sydney. “It was a pure joy to work with such a fun cast,” says Hale. “The most exciting scenes were, of course, the fight sequences. Hayden [Christensen] and Ewan [McGregor] more than held their own with trained swordsmen. They were fantastic.
“Robin Gurland did a great job in choosing not only the most talented actors, but also the sweetest,” recalls Hale. “Temuera Morrison, who played the baddie in Once Were Warriors, said that people are often afraid of him since they mix him up with the character he played. He is one of the most gentle people I’ve ever met, though.”
Since Morrison is set to play a grim bounty hunter in Episode II, it looks like he may have further to go to shake the fearsome reputation.