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, August 09, 2001
Creating a Performance
With over 2,000 visual effects shots to complete for Attack of the Clones, it’s no wonder the post-production process will cover nearly two years. George Lucas’ visits to Industrial Light & Magic have become more frequent, as he meets with the effects supervisors and makes decisions about nearly every element of each shot as it moves from concept to final.
Moving throughout the facility from tables covered with concepts on paper, to computer terminal screens, to the seats of ILM’s screening theater, Animation Director Rob Coleman and Visual Effects Supervisors John Knoll and Pablo Helman consult with the director, gathering feedback for their teams comprised of dozens of artists working on hundreds of shots at a time at various stages of completion.
With digital tools created for The Phantom Menace and perfected in subsequent ground-breaking ILM projects, Lucas and the ILM team’s focus is not on technology, but on getting the best possible performance from their creations, be they locations, ships, creatures or characters. Attention to detail beyond the focal point of the action can be key to making the audience believe in the fantasy being presented. The slight skid of a ship turning a corner, the shadows cast by digitally created furniture, the short attention span of a walnut-sized-brained monster and the growing discomfort of a guard as tension builds in the room are all observed through preliminary positioning, refinement of articulation and eventually final rendering critiqued on a theatrical-sized screen.
Coleman, who jokingly claims that he has the longest list of items to review because he “has the most interesting stuff”, delights in finalizing an animated performance and passing it off to the group responsible for the automated simulation of real-world physics including movement of armor, material, wings and floppy ears.
“Excellent. I’ll send that off to the clothing team,” smiles Coleman in what has become a familiar refrain.
Thursday, August 23, 2001
Artoo-Detoo is a beeping, rolling, life-saving mobile toolbox, and his little frame is crammed with all sorts of useful appendages perfect for saving the lives of heroes in a jam. Artoo wouldn’t be nearly as resourceful without the helping hand of Don Bies, an ILM modelmaker who, among other things, works as a droid wrangler for the production crew.
“We do get to see Artoo do a few new things in this movie,” said Bies, describing the astromech’s role in Attack of the Clones. Artoo will also be seen reprising some old favorites from his performance repertoire, including projecting holograms and interfacing with computer ports. “I don’t think he did that in Episode I,” says Bies of the latter. “The props people made up a new computer armlet with a socket that he plugs into on Amidala’s ship. That was fun to do, because we had never done it before. I mean, I had never personally been involved with something like that.”
Someone on set did have experience with the potentially difficult task. “Tony Daniels (C-3PO) was on the set the day we were shooting that, and he mentioned that when they did it way back in 1976 they had such a problem with the arm coming down and constantly missing the socket. Since we knew of that history, we could not let it repeat itself. The machinist from the Prop Department made a system where the arm came right down and registered exactly spot-on. I just puppeteered it from behind, dropping it down, pushing it in and doing the turning. That was fun.”
Though Artoo did do some drink dispensing in Jabba’s sail barge in Return of the Jedi, we haven’t seen him dish out food until now. “We took one of his pincers from The Empire Strikes Back, and modified it so that he can grab some bread in this one. We also needed a holder for the soup bowls that he delivers to Anakin and Padmé. That was a brand new device that we never had before.”
The ever-resourceful droid is also slated to receive a number of computer-generated appendages that allow him to perform complicated tasks that would be too difficult and time-consuming to try to simulate practically.
Thursday, September 06, 2001
Episode II Book Report: Comics
Artist Jan Duursema is now penciling issue #2 of the Attack of the Clones comics adaptation, which features Obi-Wan Kenobi embarking on an important mission to unravel a crucial mystery.
“I’ve really always wanted to work with Obi-Wan, and this project’s giving me the chance to do that,” says Duursema. “I’ve always wanted to draw him in action. He has a lot more depth than I originally thought he did.”
Duursema has drawn several Star Wars titles for Dark Horse Comics, including the “Twilight” and “Darkness” story-arcs in the ongoing Star Wars series, and the Darth Maul four-part limited series.
“When I draw a character like Quinlan Vos, it’s very easy to understand him, since he’s coming out of my head, and [writer] John Ostrander’s head. With someone like Anakin Skywalker, he has to look and act like Hayden Christensen. He’s a character that’s evolving throughout the whole story. You saw him as a little boy in Episode I, and he had a sweetness to him along with a determination. He still has that determination, and he’s pretty stubborn; he knows what he wants, and he goes after it.”
To properly capture the likenesses and elements from Episode II, Lucasfilm provides Duursema with as much reference as possible — these include stills directly from the movie and reference studio photographs of the subject from all angles. “There’s not as much reference as I would like to have, but I know it’s difficult to get certain things. The CGI stuff is not available, so a lot of the stuff I have to make up, as far as the backgrounds on Coruscant or Theed go. Those are things I have to figure out.”
Duursema points to many things in Episode II that she’s excited to work on. “I think going back to Tatooine is really exciting, because I’ve always wanted to go there. That, and the new bounty hunters — you just can’t see enough of them. I love Zam Wesell and I love Jango Fett. He is extremely cool. They picked someone who has a great look – a battle-scarred angry brooding kind of guy. You really believe he’s a bounty hunter. He’s nasty.”
Dark Horse Comics’ adaptation of Episode II will be available around the time of the film’s release next year.
Thursday, September 20, 2001
Zam Wesell Speaks
By Pablo Hidalgo
In many respects, Leeanna Walsman was a typical 21-year old when she visited California earlier this month — catching the sights, the sounds, and a Madonna concert for good measure. Unlike most 21-year olds, though, Walsman was Stateside on bounty hunting business — she plays bounty hunter Zam Wesell in Episode II.
Though Walsman finished principal photography over a year ago down in Fox Studios Australia, she again donned the armor, guns and lycra and stepped into character for pick-up shots supervised by ILM. “It’s been surreal,” she confides. “I was like, ‘Dude… I don’t even know if I look completely different. What’s happening? What do you mean you’ve got to shoot still. It’s been a year!’ But it wasn’t hard, because everyone here is so friendly and so nice. You never feel like you’ve disappeared, even if you haven’t heard from them for ages. You get here, and it’s like you’re back with family.”
Walsman shot a couple of scenes on blue-filled environments. While in Australia, she shared screen time with Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor. This time, she performed solo. “For the pick ups, it was me and Jango’s head-on-a-stick,” she laughs. “That’s the first time I did it without a person. When I was in Sydney, it was always with Hayden, or Ewan and Hayden. I’m a huge fan of Ewan McGregor, so that was a bit nerve-wracking. Hayden’s new on the scene. He’s a great guy; I really like him.”
In Star Wars, bounty hunters are tight-lipped, and Zam is no exception. But despite her laconic nature, Walsman had to stop into Skywalker Sound in Northern California for looping duty. “Maybe some lines may not have been picked up properly in the filming process, so you redo your lines without being shot on camera. It’s purely vocal. You might put in grunts and groans, or your mouth might have moved [on camera] at a certain point and you didn’t hear anything, so you might put in a breath. There’s a lot running and a lot of grunting and a lot of groaning. Which is always a bit funny — me standing in a room with a microphone, and George Lucas saying ‘okay, now sound like you’re in pain.’ Urgghhhh!”
As for what the future holds, the actress said she’s really not prepared for any fallout from her role. After given a peek at artist Jan Duursema’s artwork of Zam Wesell in the upcoming Attack of the Clones comics adaptation, it seemed a bit more real for Walsman. Or at least, a bit more surreal. “That’s so cool. That’s like, you know, the old school cool,” she says.
Thursday, October 04, 2001
Following Father’s Footsteps
It’s summer vacation — you’re getting a break from another grueling year of high school. You’re ready to enjoy some time off, but your dad comes up to you and decides that you’re going to work with him all summer, going to his job each day, and helping him out. Sounds like the summer’s ruined, right? Not necessarily…
It came as a surprise to several crewmembers in Australia when a bright teenager carrying sound equipment would introduce himself as Ben Burtt. This is Benjamin A. Burtt, son of Episode II’s editor and sound designer, Benjamin P. Burtt. (“We refer to my son as ‘Benny’ to distinguish him from me and my father. In fact we are in a line of nine Ben Burtts, all the way from 1602,” says the elder Burtt). When Benjamin returned to high school last fall, he was able to boast about being involved in Episode II during his summer vacation.
“At first, people didn’t know,” recalls the younger Burtt. “When I started to record, people would come up to me and ask what I was doing. I’d say, ‘oh, I’m recording things for my dad.’ They’ll say, ‘oh, who is your dad?’ And I’ll say, ‘He’s editing right now, but he does sound design.’ I met a lot of people this way.”
In between his 10th and 11th year of high school, Benjamin accompanied the production crew to Fox Studios Australia, gathering sounds with his father’s DAT recorder which will later be blended, mixed and tweaked in post-production. “I came across a lot of good things. I recorded all the motors in the R2-D2s and C-3POs. You know when you open doors, and the air pressure is different so it makes this weird little howling? My dad was working on a scene where there’s this city that’s always in a stormy area. That can be used there.”
The rich diversity of the far-away galaxy gave Burtt the freedom to record almost anything. “There’s also an air drill that makes a bzzzt sound, so we can use that. My dad said that we can probably use it for Zam Wesell’s speeder. It’s a lot of fun. When you think about Star Wars, almost any sound can be used because there’s so many different things: droids, aliens, rocketships, engines of all sorts.”
Benjamin also sat in with his father in the editing suite as the senior Ben Burtt began cutting takes and assembling the movie. While gathering sounds was definitely a fun venture, Benjamin isn’t quite as sold on editing. “You have to watch the scenes over and over again — I probably wouldn’t be able to do that because I’ve seen the same thing over and over,” he says. He credits his father for not only having a sound designer’s ear, but an editor’s eye. “I’d probably say, ‘oh, that looks good,’ but he notices things that you wouldn’t notice. There’s one scene where there’s an explosion and these guys go flying. What’s really funny is that one guy is anticipating it — he’s ready for the explosion. He’s halfway through his flip before the actual explosion went off. He notices these things.”
Did the unique job-shadowing opportunity give him insights into his future career path? The young Burtt still has a lot of time to decide. “I might want to do sound design when I grow up; I don’t know… I want to be a professional baseball player.”
Thursday, October 18, 2001
Mighty Artist: Brandon McKinney
Though the frames containing Brandon McKinney’s art may be compact, the dozens of images the Northern California-based illustrator fills them with describe vast scenes of epic proportions. McKinney is the artist of The Mighty Chronicle series: thick yet tiny storybooks published by Chronicle Books adapting the Star Wars films. He is currently wrapping up work on the Attack of the Clones adaptation, to be published upon the movie’s release next year.
“There are anywhere from 120 to 150 illustrations in each book,” says McKinney. “For Episode II, I’ve roughed out 150 or so, and we’re going to use about 130 of them. We had to pull some because of how small the book is going to be. I’m just inking those up right now, so I’m just a couple of weeks from finishing.”
Being based in the Bay Area is a boon for McKinney, who visits Skywalker Ranch on a weekly basis, putting him in the heart of Episode II’s production. “It’s a privilege,” he says. “If I lived out on the east coast, I wouldn’t get to be here and see the new stuff come rolling in, and see it all get put together, and that’s really exciting. And I can brag to my friends that I got to go to the Ranch today.”
McKinney joins the ranks of such notable artist as Dark Horse’s Jan Duursema in adapting the entire story of Episode II into artwork. For a movie still in the making, this calls upon an artist’s flexibility and imagination to manage the often-incomplete information on the evolving subject matter.
“For this book, I started working at the end of July. I first watched a slideshow presentation of a synopsis of the story. I got to read one of the versions of the script, and Lucasfilm gave me access to images for reference,” says McKinney. “It’s tricky, because if a shot is completely computer-generated — like the Gungan battle in Episode I — I just have to make up the final shot in my head. While I’m working on this book, ILM is putting the shots together. It’s basically me reading the script and getting reference for the characters and reference for the background, and putting them in the action that the story calls for. It’s kind of fun, because I feel like I get to do my own version of certain shots in the movie. It will be interesting to actually see the movie and see how close I got them.”
Being able to touch elements from the entire movie, McKinney quickly latched onto favorite characters and scenes. “Jango Fett is awesome,” he says, a sentiment shared by many artists working on adaptations. “I like doing characters with expressions, but Fett’s costume looks so cool, it’s one big expression in and of itself.”
An appreciation for the saga’s momentous events depicted in Episode II made some of the more difficult drawing tasks easier. McKinney points to one particular frame that stood out as a chore. “There’s thousands and thousands of tiny figures in this one picture. That’s a little nerve-wracking. The concept of the sequence is awesome; it’s just the rendering of it that gets a little tough.”
McKinney notes that the size of his illustrations — about two-by-three inches when printed — often presents a challenge when depicting scenes of immense scope. But for one of the largest sequences in Episode II, all the pieces fell into place. “I found it almost the easiest once I got all the reference. The trick was getting a hold of all that stuff. Once I got everything together, it was really fun. It’s an image I’ve always dreamed about seeing.”
Conversely, the printed size works in favor of the film’s more intimate scenes. “I really liked the personal stuff between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé; the beautifully lit scenes with beautiful backgroundsand beautiful settings. I liked going from the cool action stuff to the quieter, more emotional stuff.”
Thursday, November 01, 2001
Captain Typho Speaks
The grim-faced one-eyed Captain Typho couldn’t be more different than Jay Laga’aia, the actor who plays him. starwars.com caught up with Laga’aia on a visit to Skywalker Ranch last week. The actor demonstrated a considerably lighter attitude than Padmé’s stern protector.
“It was just fabulous,” says Laga’aia of his performance. “There are rumors that George is actually writing a sequel just about my character, but I don’t want to get into that because of my confidentiality clause.”
Kidding aside, Laga’aia will be stepping back into a character he hasn’t played in months, and to get up to speed requires a quick crash-course in Typhoisms. “I had to request some dialogue of myself previously, because I have an American accent for Xena, and an American accent specifically for Captain Typho.”
Typho follows the tradition of his uncle, Captain Panaka, in guarding Padmé Amidala’s safety. “I quite like the character, because he’s this guardian that has Padmé’s ear, and her counsel, and he can say things and decree things that not too many people can get away with as far as her security is involved. Once you get the costume on, it’s a regal feeling, because the costume is so restrictive, you’re forced to pull yourself up and forced to hold yourself with the shoulders back.”
Despite the help the costume provides in performing the character, Laga’aia was looking forward to acting in regular street clothes when re-recording dialogue, especially since it meant he’d have his full vision back. “Because of the eyepatch, depth perception and hitting marks was just a nightmare on set. And you couldn’t actually explain to people asking you to run here and hit a mark that you’re looking out of one eye! So you try to hit a mark, and you realize ‘I have no idea how far that is from me.’ I hope that if my character comes back in Episode III, that just like Geordi in Star Trek, he can get a prosthetic or something.”
Star Wars has long been a family experience for Laga’aia. “I’ve been a fan of the movies since it first came out. I remember as a 13-year-old with my brother growing up in South Aukland, collecting drink bottles and taking them into the store to get refunds, and saving up enough money to catch the bus to see the movie. I sat down with my brother, watching the opening crawl, and I remember turning to him and saying, ‘Can you read quieter?’
“When Episode I came out in Sydney, I took my seven-year-old with his friends to the movies, gave him his popcorn and gave him his drink, sat them down, the opening titles came up, and I turned to my son and said, ‘Would you mind reading quieter?'”
What does Laga’aia think now that children and collectors around the world may someday re-enact scenes from Attack of the Clones with toys of his character? “I asked the licensing guys if it would be possible to get a microchip put into Captain Typho action figures that detects if there are feminine clothes being placed on it, so it explodes in the kid’s hands. Theysaid it could be dangerous.”
Thursday, November 15, 2001
Full Teaser Trailer
Tonight, fans will be afforded their third glimpse of Episode II footage, as the full teaser trailer for Attack of the Clones becomes available on starwars.com. The teaser trailer is also playing theatrically in front of screenings of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
This trailer deals with choosing between emotion and duty, obligation and desire. Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala are at a crucial juncture in their lives, each devoted to an institution of greater purpose — for him, the Jedi order; for her, the Republic.
“In this one, we’re really focusing on one of the major themes of the film — the love story between Anakin and Padmé,” says Lucasfilm’s VP of Marketing, Jim Ward. “I think people will be able to see that it is a true love story set against a galaxy that’s in turmoil. It’s also set against the expectations that galaxy has of the roles and responsibilities of a Jedi and a Senator. Now these two are having to confront those realities while falling in love.”
The full teaser trailer follows quickly on the heels of “Mystery” and “Breathing,” two other previews of Episode II. Clocking in at over two minutes with new footage and new dialogue, the trailer represents the first real look at the Attack of the Clones story.
Thursday, November 29, 2001
The Halfway Milestone
“We hit the milestone,” said Writer/Director George Lucas; Industrial Light & Magic has recently completed their 1,000th shot on Attack the Clones, marking the halfway point in the post-production road.
“The tendency with other movies is to do the big push at the very end,” says Lucas. “It’s like a term paper — you study, you work, you do your research, and you keep putting off the actual writing until it’s almost too late. What we’ve done is gotten half the term paper already written way early, so we have plenty of time to do rewrites and finish the project and have the opportunity to make changes and improve it. It’s a great thing to be on schedule.”
Even with so much already behind them, Episode II is still months away from completion. “Everybody’s done just a really great job of staying on schedule and keeping their heads down and really working hard to meet these milestones,” says Lucas. Of the effects work specifically, he adds, “Because the most difficult part and the most complicated shots are yet to come.”
Thursday, Decembr, 13, 2001
It’s All in theTiming
Shooting a movie out of sequence and at scattered locations results in images of varying color values. The sky may not have been as bright from one day to the next, or the interior of a locale may have too different a look than its imagined exterior, shot in a different country. The process of color timing balances the hues, provides continuity, and evokes specific moods through enhancement or manipulation of colors.
In the pre-digital age, films were color timed using filters and photochemical methods. Now, digital color timing happens in real time and is computer-controlled. As Episode II is shot entirely on HD, and so much of the finished image undergoes the addition of visual effects, it seems fitting that Industrial Light & Magic is now taking on the role of a digital lab.
“The process of color timing is using a very extensive color manipulation and level luminance and gamma manipulation device that a colorist operates and manipulates the images in a way that generates a list that is memorized, and corresponds to a custom look for basically each shot or even regions within a shot,” says ILM’s HD Supervisor Fred Meyers. This list of variables, stored in computer memory, can then be applied to frames and assigned to shots, creating a specific palette for specific scenes.
“With this system any one of the millions of hues and levels in an image, including selective areas within an image, can be manipulated on a frame by frame basis. You can go at a very slow or fast speed through the picture and match things together or adjust levels in an iterative process. The changes are committed to memory in the system, and you can apply them to the entire reel or the entire movie, executing those changes in real time. It’s the same type of editing and flexibility that you have with the other post-production tools in editorial and in computer graphics. You see the changes right then and there.”
As testament to the flexibility of the system, outputted images from Episode II can be optimized for the medium it will appear on — whether output to film, digital projection, television broadcast or QuickTime.
“The same system was used to make a version of the trailer for the web that would exploit the qualities of the web delivery,” says Meyers. “The system creates a list of what gets optimized for each screen that it will ultimately appear on, and then it plays it out to that format. So we can work from a master file and create any number of versions.”