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, March 22, 2001
Episode II Book Report: Incredible Cross Sections
After two weeks of studying the intricacies of Star Wars technology at Skywalker Ranch, artists Hans Jenssen and Richard Chasemore returned to England to begin cutting apart the amazing vehicles and vessels of Episode II. Their astoundingly detailed work showing exploded views of the mechanisms and innards of vehicles and locations has previously been seen in the Incredible Cross-Section series of books published by Dorling Kindersley.
To ensure accuracy, Jenssen and Chasemore went to the source of these designs. In the Episode II Art Department, the artists examined the concept art, concept models and animatics of the new vessels.
We watch the animatics of scenes that directly affect where a missile might be fired from on a ship or where something might blow up from, for example, explains Chasemore. In one scene, some shots tear through the floor of a vessel and bring it down. We need to look at it and see if theres some crucial piece of equipment that was taken out.
Weve had meetings with [Design Director] Doug Chiang, and the Animatics team has been very accessible to us. Theyve shown us a lot, says Jenssen.
Having illustrated designs from the classic trilogy and The Phantom Menace both artists have an appreciation for the evolution of Star Wars technology. The designs have definitely moved on, explains Chasemore. Theyre advanced compared to Episode I and theyre sort of backwardly-compatible with the first films.
Some of the ships are looking very much like those in A New Hope, says Jenssen. There are also some totally alien technologies to look forward to.
Of the new designs, both artists cite one in particular as their favorite. A bold piece of military engineering, this vehicle is well equipped at air and ground support. However, only one of the artists will get to work on it.
“I was the lucky one that got it,” says Jenssen. “Its the coolest looking ship. Its just covered in guns. Everywhere you look, theres a gun. Its just awesomely beweaponed.
Thursday, April 05, 2001
Episode II: Daniels & Ealing Studios
Anthony Daniels is a veteran of all four Star Wars movies, and is now returning to don the metallic (if not quite polished) form of C-3PO once again. He is part of the additional shooting currently underway in Ealing Studios in his native England. Daniels took time out from the busy two-week shoot to share his insights into the process.
“It’s been, all-in-all, deeply confusing,” says Daniels, echoing a sentiment often expressed by his on-screen persona. “I’ve walked so many miles down so many corridors and strange environments. Also, I’m confused as to where I am in the movie. I ask Artoo, but he never speaks.”
Adds Daniels, “Occasionally, I’ll shout at George [Lucas], asking where we are going, and he says, ‘See the movie.’ I said to him yesterday that I was going to have to go to the movie just to figure out what I was doing.”
Though said with a sly grin, such confusion is understandable given how few visual cues surround the actors. Every set-up includes areas of blue that will be replaced with the digital landmarks and environments that will complete the scene. “Blue used to be my favorite color,” says Daniels, “but I think I’ve overdosed on it.”
Ealing studios is a remarkably different environment than Fox Studios Australia. Down under, the studios were brand new, built to accommodate modern movie crews of impressive size. Ealing, in contrast, is the oldest British film studio, home to the Ealing comedies and the golden age of BBC television.
“Ealing is deeply charming in an old-fashioned, British way,” says Daniels. “It has so much history here. In the canteen, there are pictures up of Alec Guinness, and it’s kind of nice to think that the spirit of Obi-Wan is with us. Being here is like being on the set of a WWII movie. The food hasn’t changed much since WWII, unfortunately.”
Thursday, April 18, 2001
Episode II: Hang On!
Speeders earn their name in the Star Wars galaxy; vehicles move very quickly and few offer such common sense items as safety belts. After all, would a blazing chase through the forests of Endor be nearly as thrilling with a voice prompt constantly reminding Luke to buckle up?
Such lackadaisical safety standards, of course, are not true of the mechanized speeder props found on the set of Episode II. During last year’s production at Fox Studios Australia, practical effects supervisor Dave Young oversaw the land-locked but nonetheless mobile speeders in action.
“One particular speeder needed much more extreme movement and needed to move very quickly,” says Young. “It’s gimbal-mounted and has outriggers that come out to stabilize it. It weighs around about two tons and the speeder on top is about half a ton.” The devilishly sleek conveyance has built-in flame effects, and can complete a 180-degree barrel roll if needed.
Though the characters in the film won’t benefit from stunt and effects crews primarily concerned with their safety, at least the actors could. “Hayden Christensen was on it,” says Young. “He was doing all his own stunts on this speeder, which is not extraordinary because we had him up at a safe angle, sliding down to the end of the speeder. Then we’d flip the speeder up the other way and slide him right back down to the other end. He was doing all that stuff himself, which he wanted to do. We had stunt mats all around in case he fell off, but he was hanging on pretty well. It came down to how we drove it. This gimbal is totally controllable.”
Upon seeing its performance, producer Rick McCallum joked that he wanted the rig at the wrap party, so that cast and crew could test their mettle by riding two-and-a-half tons of bucking speeder.
Thursday, May 03, 2001
The worlds of Episode II will be filled with alien beings and creatures realized as computer generated creations by Industrial Light & Magic. Despite such a rich digital menagerie, there is still a place in the saga for animatronic and masked aliens. This is the domain of Jason Baird, Live Action Creature Effects Supervisor and his crew.
Though Baird would oversee the construction of several new exciting designs, the alien faces crafted for The Phantom Menace were essential for filling out crowded scenes. For large throngs of aliens — as well as for returning alien characters — Baird and his crew benefited from Episode I masks that were carefully archived by Lucasfilm.
“I don’t think the job would have been do-able if all of the stuff from Episode I hadn’t come down,” says Baird. “It was all in fantastic condition. That’s what we’ve been using for most of those big days with all the background creatures.”
For some of the returning prosthetic and mask effects specifically made for Episode I, Baird and his crew had to carefully cast new performers for the extra creature roles.
“We’d get different people in. If we see someone that we think will suit a character, we get them in and either run the prosthetics and fit the pieces on them. Or we get the creature head and try it on, mixing and matching to see who fits what. If we get a good match then we run with it.”
The appropriate fit can come from anywhere, often those already on the crew. “Zac Jensen is actually one of the guards of construction in Australia. We thought he was going to fit the Saesee Tiin prosthetic makeup. Once we tried the pieces on him, we realized he didn’t fit them that well. So we actually cast his brother Jesse as Saesee Tiin because he actually fits the makeup really well.”
Zac didn’t miss out, though, on his chance to be a Jedi. He was instead cast as a fearsome looking alien Jedi new to the Star Wars saga.
May 17, 2001
Taun We Speaks
By Pablo Hidalgo
The audio layers of Episode II are currently under construction as the film continues its post-production phase. This includes the re-recording of dialogue in a process commonly known as “looping.” Last week, actress Rena Owen stopped by Skywalker Ranch in Northern California to perform her character of Taun We once again, picking up where she left off when principal photography wrapped last year in Australia.
“It’s the first time I’ve been to Skywalker Ranch,” says Owen. “It was very exciting for me to be able to come out and visit. Here is where these things are birthed. I had a lot of fun. George Lucas was so easy to work with. You instantly feel very relaxed, and you just want to do your best for him.”
Owen has done plenty of voice-work in the past. Her distinctive timbre has been used to voice-over many documentaries. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” explains Owen. “Sometimes when I do accents, people still hear the distinctive voice. So, it can go against you. Most times it goes for you.”
Owen affected a soothing, mellow tone for her role as the alien Taun We, a character who will be brought to life as a computer-generated creation by Industrial Light & Magic. “I’m not sure how to describe it. She kind of flows, and talks the same way. The two operative words that George uses — he used them on set as well as in looping — was flowing and kind. They’re creatures of love and light. It’s good, as a person, to play that because you tap into that part of yourself. As an actor, when you’re playing those characters that are angst-ridden, it’s not much fun. Taun We’s a free-flowing creature. I’m kind of the opposite side. I’m out of my head all the time! I live in Los Angeles! I work in the film industry! I think that says it all,” laughs Owen.
To tap into an unrushed mindset, Owen turned to her upbringing. “Outside of work and professional situations, that’s very much me, because I’m a farm girl,” she says. “I grew up on a farm, and it’s very laid back, with an ordinary country family. When I’m not working, I’m very good at chilling out. You’ve got to balance the introvert and extrovert.”
Owen was not deterred by the fact that her face will not appear in Episode II. Only her voice and the energy of her performance will stay intact in her scenes. “There are a million actors in the world who’d love the opportunity to be in Star Wars,” says Owen. “It’s knowing that you’re part of history, part of the Star Wars phenomena, and the opportunity and the privilege of working with someone like George Lucas, to be able to sit there and watch how they work, watch them do their thing. That’s what it’s all about.”
Adds Owen, “I’ve always based my choices on not whether it’s one scene, three scenes, five scenes, voice, face or whatever. It’s the talent you’re working with.”
Thursday, May 31, 2001
When the task of creating a costume for Episode II’s teenaged Anakin Skywalker fell to Costume Designer Trisha Biggar (with the help of Concept Artists Iain McCaig and Dermot Power), there was already considerable precedent in the Star Wars universe to draw upon.
Their initial thought was to give him a costume that would mirror the one worn by Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan) in The Phantom Menace. “But we wanted to have a feel ofthe future to become, so we looked to aspects of Darth Vader’s costume,” recalled Biggar.
“He’s still a young man who’s just at the beginning of that journey,” Biggar explained. “George [Lucas] said ‘yes’ to using leather, just to give him a bit of an edge. We really took the shape of Darth Vader’s cloak and tried to steer that back to a Jedi style to create a simpler outline than the traditional Jedi cloak.”
“We ended up with something that could still definitely be Jedi with the hood,” she said, “but just with that vaguely familiar outline.”
Thursday, June 14, 2001
George Lucas is spending an increasing amount of time at Industrial Light & Magic as effects work for Episode II continues at full speed.
The decisions being made on a regular basis are iterations of scrutiny of greater and greater detail. What was a two-dimensional concept drawing must be given a third dimension. What was a background building must be given a floor plan. What was a standing crowd is now dozens of animated individuals each needing unique movements. What was just a sneering face now needs some of their computer generated hair swept in a different direction as they move.
These thousands of decisions must be made quickly in order to keep the film on schedule. One ILM artist, whose printed renderings were given a final approval, quietly wished to see them adorned withthered “OK” seen on many completed concept sketches.
“We’re moving too fast for stamps now,” smiled Lucas as he left the room for the next batch of creative consultations.
Thursday, June 28, 2001
Enthusiastic Star Wars fans were abuzz last week with the announcement of The Phantom Menace coming to DVD. (If this is the first you’re hearing about it, head here now.) Episode I Producer Rick McCallum is among those anticipating the release.
“People forget that the greatest thing about DVD is the quality,” says McCallum. “You have the ability to experience a quality presentation that most accurately reflects what we’ve made, much more so than the person who sees and hears the film in an average cinema, which is a tragedy. We don’t want to cut into that theater experience. All of us are working on getting theaters to give everyone the kind of quality picture and sound you can get on a DVD.”
Adds McCallum, “The average person just wants to see the movie, and other people want to go further, but that’s what makes DVD fantastic.” The Episode I DVD has over sixhours of additional material, including seven deleted scenes that had their visual effects work completed just for this release. “It’s painful to cut something out; it’s not done lightly,” says McCallum. “Now, you can see it in a different light. You have to make the decisions at the moment. Years later, you still think about if you should have left certainthings in.”
An all-new hour-long documentary entitled “The Beginning” promises an unblinking look into the making of The Phantom Menace, with unprecedented access into the inner workings of Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. “For too many years people have mythologized what they do, and the whole industry is shrouded in secrecy. You could only know what happened if you knew somebody. We want to get all the stories, all the pain — not the ‘oh it’s so nice to work with George and Rick’-syndrome. We want to show the pain we had in getting the picture out there, the problems we had, the challenges we faced, where we succeeded, where we didn’t succeed, and some of the things we had to cut out. I think that’s what I’m really excited about people seeing.”
Thursday, July 12, 2001
Laying Out Coruscant
Coruscant: the whole planet is one big city. That doesn’t mean, however, that the world is uniform in its design. In Episode II, moviegoers will get a whirlwind tour of several Coruscant locales, each of which requires careful planning and plotting.
Helping the Animatics Department piece together this exciting sequence is concept artist Robert Barnes. Though the bulk of Barnes’ work for Episode II has been sculpting conceptual models for aliens and creatures, he has contributed illustrations for key animatic scenes.
“There are different parts of the sequences that feature different architecture or obstacles, with different things that are going on,” explains Barnes. “It helps the animatics guys to have a sense of where these things happen spatially, particularly on Coruscant, where major design atmosphere changes happen.”
The work begins with Barnes examining the rough cut of the sequence, and from there, generating a map of locales. “I did the same sort of thing for Episode I,” explains Barnes. “I did the Podrace map and a schematic of the end battle.”
For Coruscant, Barnes broke down the sequence into distinct design zones. “These are where things change character, to give the idea that we’re really moving through a vast city. One of the zones is kind of an industrial warehouse zone that I did the environmental designs for, determining the look of the buildings and the color and lighting palette of a specific part of the city. It was a combination of drawings that were digitized and colorized. Once George [Lucas] agreed to the basic zones and general feel of each, Erik Tiemens and Ryan Church took over, doing full-blown color, architecture and atmospheric designs to be used both as matte paintnigs for animatics, and as the guide for final work done at ILM.”
Thursday, July 26, 2001
“I think we have less quantity, in terms of uniforms,” says Costume Designer Trish Biggar, describing the wardrobe of Episode II. “We don’t have groups or soldiers; in Episode I, we had big groups of Naboo soldiers and Royal Palace Guards. This episode, the costumes are very much more individual.”
Biggar describes Episode II as a more ‘civilian’ movie, with a closer look at the galaxy’s working class. “We’re going from different planets, so we have Coruscant street people, and it’s interesting because they come from all over. On Naboo, we’re seeing mostly people who were in and around the palace, and who are a very well dressed middle class: just regular people who live and work on Naboo.”
Padmé Amidala, who is no longer the elected queen of Naboo in Episode II, is also seeing a less institutionalized wardrobe. “She has many, many more costumes this time,” says Biggar. “Hard to believe, but yes. We’ll see her as more of a person, this time, and less as a figurehead of a nation. She has softer clothes, which are less formal. She’s also a little bit older, so she has some sexier clothes. It’s nice. I think she likes them.”