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, October 17, 2002
Next month, Mace Windu comes to home video as Episode II arrives on DVD and VHS on November 12. No longer just sitting around the Council chambers, Windu gets to face off against enemies of the Republic and dispense Jedi justice with his violet-bladed lightsaber.
“I was thrilled about that,” Samuel L. Jackson says. “It’s wish fulfillment. All my life I wanted to be in a swashbuckling adventure movie but no one really makes them anymore.”
Jackson has often equated the Star Wars films to the adventure epics of yesterday, ranking the Jedi warriors alongside such legends as Errol Flynn. It was that derring-do spirit that made Jackson a Star Wars fan way back when he first saw A New Hope during its original release.
“If George Lucas hadn’t offered me the part of Mace Windu,I’d have gladly dressed up as an extra in stormtrooper gear. As long as I was in a Star Wars movie somewhere, even hidden in some kind of costume, I’d have been happy,” he admits.
Episode II has become the key to unlocking the saga, as audiences can clearly see the connections that bind the Star Wars films together. Jackson was impressed at how well prepared director George Lucas was in piecing together the universe. “When there’s something I don’t know, then I’m not afraid to ask. I’ve watched all the movies and read a lot of the background stuff. You could spend hours on the ‘net checking out details, but a lot of the time people embellish Star Wars lore or just plain make stuff up. You have to filter a lot of things. As I say, the only person who really knows how everything fits together is George.”
The unparalleled digital clarity of the DVD is the perfect showcase for Industrial Light & Magic’s work, and even having been part of the filmmaking process doesn’t blunt the impact of the visuals for an actor. Jackson had no problem with the amount of bluescreen shooting, since it appealed to a type of role-playing he had done as a youngster. “It kind of feels like I’ve been doing it all my life. Being an only child and having an active imagination, I did the same sort of thing in my room as a kid. I fought things that weren’t really there and had conversations with people that were just in my head.”
Despite such digital breakthroughs, Jackson isn’t worried about being replaced by a computer-generated simulacrum someday. “You’ll always need real people,” he says. “Audiences like to imagine themselves in these situations, and the only way they can do that is through flesh-and-blood actors. You need a real person to relate to. Plus the public will always need movie stars to admire or gossip about.”
Thursday, October 31, 2002
BIG IMAX PARTY!
This weekend marks the debut of the first Star Wars movie presented in IMAX® format. Episode II has undergone the revolutionary IMAX-DMRTM process, which not only results in a clear image up to eight stories tall, but also a colossal 12,000 watts of sound for a truly immersive experience.
To celebrate the debut of the film, many unofficial fan groups across North America are gathering to once again turn the opening night of a Star Wars movie into a party to remember. On October 31 or November 1, fans are planning to show up in their finest fan-made costumes, to hand out the special limited edition Bantha Tracks #0, and much more. Many groups are turning the power of fandom to benefit local charities and not-for-profit organizations.
Here’s some of what we hear is in the works for openingnight:
In Tempe, AZ, on Halloween night, local fan groups will be handing out candy to all trick or treating children at the Arizona Mills Mall IMAX theater. The local NBC affiliate will be sponsoring a Costume Contest as well.
At the Virginia Marine Science Museum IMAX screening in Hampton, Shannon Baksa, the model known for playing the real-life incarnation of Mara Jade, is said to be in attendance on November 1 to meet with fans.
In Atlanta, GA, fan groups will show up in full stormtrooper armor and Rebel gear, to challenge fans with trivia contests.
In Raleigh, NC, Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) is scheduled to attend Halloween night festivities. There will also be costume contests and a stormtrooper parade at the theater.
In Boston, MA, fan groups will include costumed Jedi training young candidates in the Jedi arts and lightsaber skills. Fans will also be raising donations for the New England Aquarium’s Education Program through photo opportunities on
In Natick, MA, fan groups will raise donations to benefit the Jimmy Fund, and its support of the fight against cancer in children and adults.
In Tampa, FL at the Museum of Science and Industry, there will be photo opportunities with Star Wars characters for donations to benefit the Museum’s programs for at-risk and disadvantaged children. At the Channelside IMAX theater, fans will be collecting new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots.
In Huntsville, AL, fans will be running a toy drive for Toys for Tots, and will be raising donations for the Children’s Miracle Network.
In New York, NY, fan groups are collecting donations for the Oasis Foundation and the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit.
In Charleston, SC, fans will be having a toy drive for Toys for Tots and raising money for the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital.
All this and much more; some fan groups have events planned all weekend and beyond. Events are subject to change; see individual fan group websites for further details.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
This week marks the arrival of the Episode II DVD. While the two-disc set has hours of expanded material exploring the creation of Attack of the Clones, a DVD-ROM weblink provides a gateway to even more content.
The DVD format has huge amounts of storage space, but producers must carefully balance the quantity of content placed on a disc, since it comes at the cost of image and sound quality. Basically, the more stuff jammed on a disc, the worse it all looks. As a result, some things couldn’t fit on the DVD.
Some of this content is finding its way to dvd.starwars.com. Over the coming months, new material will be added to the site, but to start off, there’s over 20 minutes of video there right now. Users will need a PC DVD-ROM, an Internet connection, and the Episode II DVD to take full advantage of these features.
DVD Trailer. Originally crafted to inform retailers of the Episode II DVD, this four-minute trailer provides an exciting summary of the disc’s multitude of features.
Music featurette. Episode II marks the fifth Star Wars collaboration between George Lucas and composer John Williams. They liken the creation of the distinctive musical themes to the writing of a book, and Episode II adds some important chapters to the musical language of the saga. Find out more in this six-minute video.
ILM featurette. With over 2,000 visual effect shots, Episode II stands as one of Industrial Light & Magic’s most phenomenal achievements. Learn more about the process and the innovators behind the magic in this 11-minute video.
Star Wars Bounty Hunter Cut Scene.Jango Fett has become one of the most popular characters from Episode II, and fans want more. See an exclusive sequence created by Industrial Light & Magic, featuring Jango, from the new Star Wars Bounty Hunter video game.
Depth Commentary. Thanks to software from InterActual, the power of DVD and the Internet are combined to deliver a text-based commentary as viewers watch Episode II on their computers. Color-coded “pop-up” blurbs deliver three types of information: learn behind-the-scenes factoids (“Hey, is that a fake beard?”), bits of lore trivia (“How did Typho lose that eye?”), or hard-to-spot visual treats (“Where exactly is ‘THX-1138’ in this movie?”)
Not all the DVD-ROM extras require an Internet connection. Two of Lucas Online’s most extraordinary website efforts have now been archived on the Episode II DVD.
First up is HoloNet News, a website of dozens of news stories as reported from within the Star Wars galaxy. First launched in the spring of 2002, this site kept track of the major happenings in the Republic in “real time” as the events of Episode II began to encroach. Archived on Disc One, this off-line version of the site allows readers to immerse themselves in the Star Wars galaxy as a citizen of a Republic threatened by Count Dooku’s Separatist movement.
Another Episode II online experience that has been archived on the DVD is the Episode II College Campaign, which can be found by snooping around the walls of Dex’s Diner on Disc Two. Although visible through just a standard DVD player, a DVD-ROM translates the full multimedia experience of these funky little websites — including downloadable wallpapers and messenger icons. These sites launched last April to promote Attack of the Clones to select college audiences across North America.
Thursday, November 27, 2002
Happy Life Day
A central theme to the Star Wars films is family, and this holiday weekend offers several opportunities for fans to celebrate the saga with their families. In select theaters across North America, Episode II continues to be a strong presence in the incomparable IMAX format, with Attack of the Clones – The IMAX Experience. If the scale of a 50-foot tall Yoda is too much (or not enough), the recently released DVD allows you to enjoy Episode II in the comfort of your own home. And finally, on Thanksgiving day, the FOX network will again be airing Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace.
And, of course, you can always spend time with your fellow Star Wars friends in our forums.
- Happy Life Day from starwars.com
Thursday, December 12, 2002
Inside The Hatchery
As Obi-Wan tours the Kaminoancloning facility, he sees an immense hatchery of fetal clones suspended in glassy jars affixed to disc-like pods. This sequence incorporated live action and miniature elements, but the centerpieces of the environment — the hatchery pods — were entirely digital creations.
“Because the hatchery pieces were really comprised of five basic components that are repeated numerous times throughout the shots, computer graphics were a really good solution for creating this scene,” says David Meny, Computer Graphics Supervisor at ILM.
The “real” elements of the shot included bluescreen photography of actor Ewan McGregor, a miniature corridor environment, and a miniature of the far dome interior. The glassy forest of hatchery pods outside the corridor was all digital.
“The main challenge in this sequence was realizing an environment that has so many glass elements with so many reflections and refractions. Also, there’s a large number of models that you have to render, because in each of these jars there’s a fetus with significant detail and motion,” says Meny.
Each hatchery “tree” consisted of five repeated pieces: a fetus, a jar, a pod, a base, and a tube. “Because of the depth of the shot, we needed some pods that would stand-up very close to the camera and some that could be seen way in the background. We created multiple resolutions of the models to put the detail where we needed it, but not incur the expense of rendering that detail when we didn’t expect to see it.”
Within each jar was a fetal clone. ILM crafted two models to suggest different stages of clone development. The animators created one long sequence of motion for the fetus model, which was than offset throughout the jars for the illusion of individual performances.
Once the visual characteristics of the models were finalized, the shot began to be assembled layer by layer. For this shot, this was necessary since the visual and lighting complexity of the environment would be impossible to render in one pass. Some of the most complex layers alone required 12 hours per frame to render.
“We break it down to as many rendering layers as we can manage reasonably,” says Meny. “In this shot, there’s about 120 rendered layers that are then combined in the composite. The main reason indoingthat is it gives you a lot more control to change things. If a certain part of the shot isn’t working, you only have to re-render a subsection of that,” says Meny.
With the outside hatchery assembled complete with lighting and atmospheric haze, one final addition gave the shot an added hint of realism. Since there was no reflective glass on the bluescreen stage during Ewan McGregor’s shoot, ILM had to trick a reflection of Obi-Wan on the inside of the glass corridor. “The compositor had to cheat it using elements from other shots, and slip-sync them to give you a sense there’s a reflection in the glass. The final composite is pretty subtle, and we hide it behind the principal element of Obi-Wan.”
Thursday, January 09, 2003
Inside the Factory
A late addition to the postproduction of Episode II was the elaborate Geonosiandroid factory set piece, which was conceived, scripted, previsualized and shot months after principal photography had wrapped. Visual Effects Supervisor Ben Snow and his unit tackled the eleventh hour action sequence.
“We used a combination of computer graphics and miniature work for the environment,” says Snow. “Since everything in the factory is moving and interacting, we made a lot of it in computer graphics so we can deal with the complexity and the interaction.”
The rust-hued smoke-belching clamor of the factory was a perfect showcase for the signature “used universe” feel of Star Wars. “To get a realistic grime and gritty feel, we enhanced our shots with CG and real smoke, sparks and pyrotechnical elements,” says Snow. “To make the sequence tense and scary, we wanted to push for a realistic feel.”
To that end, Snow took a crew of computer graphic artists and model-makers to a real automobile factory in the San Francisco Bay Area. “We looked at all these machines in action and try to get a good feel for it,” he says. “One of the daunting things is just how much complexity there is in this real factory, and trying to reproduce that in computer graphics and visual effects is a bit overwhelming. But you’re trying to convey an impression of it rather than having to get every bit of grime in there.”
Even the car factory was judged too austere. “We decided we neededtotake the team somewhere a bit nastier,” says Snow. “We visited a foundry in the East Bay, and this was paydirt as far as I was concerned. Dark, and dirty, and old, I think it really defined the look we were going for. It had the texture and the sulfuric industrial smell that we wanted to try to evoke in our work. We took a bunch of photographs that we used as texture reference when painting our CG models and miniatures. It’s really important to have good reference. It keeps us honest, particularly if we’re doing a largely computer graphic scene.”
The final factory environment was created using a combination of computer-generated elements and miniatures, with bluescreen plate photography of the actors properly aligned into the virtual surroundings. Helping add to the realism of the finished shots was a sense of purpose to the enveloping chaos.
“In a lot of the shots the machines could just be whirling around threateningly, but I thought it would make the sequence more exciting to see that the machines were actually building things,” says Snow. “One of the things I did was to sit down and try to work out what each conveyer belt was doing, and made little maps showing the manufacturing process for the animators and artists on the sequence.”
Thursday, January 23, 2003
Where in the world is the rocky terrain of Geonosis? Some of it can be found in the American southwest. Some of it, in the model shops of Industrial Light & Magic, and much of it as computer-generated imagery and digital information that stitches all these pieces together to make a unique and foreboding alien world.
“We put a lot of thought into the landscape of Geonosis, as to how it might look, with different buttes and rocks,” says Ben Snow, one of ILM’s Visual Effects Supervisors on Episode II. “George Lucas had a very specific look in mind: Monument Valley but much redder and more alien. Because Monument Valley is so distinctive to filmgoers, we tried to take that spirit and look at some real world locations that would be different, yet with the same qualities.”
Snow’s initial plan was to shoot background plates in the American southwest, but Lucas and Producer Rick McCallum challenged the digital artists to provide a solution that wouldn’t require a costly location shoot. Instead, only a trio of effects artists with still cameras — Snow, Effects Director of Photography Martin Rosenberg and Digital Matte Lead Jonathan Harb — voyaged to the Hite Marina in Utah to gather the raw data that would become Geonosis.”We tiled our stills together, and used it as a background, digitally altering it as needed, and removing the vegetation. The other thing we had to do was to create the sky of Geonosis. George wanted a really yellow, different sky, so we painted a large sky panorama,” says Snow.
For much of the Clone War ground battle, the landscape consisted of three distinct parts. The distant horizon was a digitally altered photographic plate. The mid-ground was computer-generated terrain. The immediate foreground consisted of detailed miniatures.
For the swooping approach shots of Padmé’s starship soaring through the canyons, Snow’s crew favored an all-digital method that was nonetheless rooted in real world topography.
“We actually pulled United States Geological Survey data from the USGS website, and we converted that data into our format. We took the data from the area where Ben and his crew shot stills,” says Computer Graphics Supervisor Curt Miyashiro. “It gave Ben and George the flexibility to choose the shots any way they wanted, since they weren’t locked into any particular flight path or plate work”
The online data was fairly low-resolution, but formed the topographical foundation for more detailed work. Procedural shaders added erosion and texture to the canyons and mesas, significantly altering the landscape to make it an alien world. Since the landscape was entirely digital, it was easy to extract the necessary vantage points to create the reflectivity of Padmé’s silvery ship.
When audiences were first given a glimpse of Geonosis in the “Breathing” teaser trailer in November 2001, what they saw was a work in progress. “We were still doing R & D work for a terrain system at that time, so we had to cheat it,” says Miyashiro. “We used what we had developed at the time, as well as some elements leftover from the Podrace in Episode I to create the canyon walls.” The shot was of course finished in time for theatrical release.
Thursday, February 06, 2003
ILM’s Clone War Secrets
The overwhelming final act of Episode II was reason enough for repeat viewings. The chaos of the Clone War battlefield was vividly brought to life by the digital artists at Industrial Light & Magic under the leadership of Ben Snow, Visual Effects Supervisor. With the freeze-frame clarity of DVD, fans can revel in the intricate detail and craftsmanship of these amazing shots. Here are a handful of behind-the-scenes factoids from the epic battle.
The CG models of the Republic attack gunships had to be extremely detailed to withstand viewer scrutiny during closeups. ILM even crafted a version with a fully decked out interior, which was used as the background for new bluescreen elements of the actors aboard the gunships shot during additional photography in London. The real life gunship interior sets were left in Sydney, so these new shots required digital gunship interiors.
To efficiently deliver a realistic explosion for the gunship that gets shot out of the sky, ILM built a mandrill of the vessel. A mandrill is an all-blue practical miniature. It was rigged with pyrotechnics and blown up. The properly shaped explosion was digitally extracted, interacting with the properly shaped wreckage, and digital artists replaced the blue gunship with the computer-generated one.
Many of the explosions of the final ground battle were real ones rather than digital fireballs. They were shot in the backlot at ILM. Explosions were such in demand that the compositors dipped into the library of explosions built for the Naboo plains battle from Episode I to fill out the shots.
Yoda’s command center was a 1/6th scale miniature.
Though the Republic AT-TE walkers were computer-generated, at least one 1/10th scale miniature was constructed for pyrotechnic purposes. The walker that gets blown apart by an armor-busting Hailfire missile was first shot as a miniature against greenscreen. This provided valuable reference for the animators, though the scale of the resulting miniature explosion proved unusable as a final element. Also, the miniature was shot with a static camera while the finished shot had a swooping camera move that followed the rocket: a CG walker was needed to properly move with the perspective of the shot.
A number of subtle visual clues were incorporated into the design of the shots to help audiences keep track of who’s who. The good guys — the Republic clones — always move from screen right to screen left, while the Separatist forces moved from screen left to screen right. The sun is behind the clones, resulting in a gloomier sky behind the Separatists. Finally, the missile contrails were color-coded to denote allegiance: the Republic rockets leave clean white trails, while the villains launch missiles that leave noxious black exhaust.
To efficiently communicate the damage sustained by the Trade Federation core ship blasted out of the sky, two versions of the computer-generated vessel were made. One bore its standard paint job. The other was the “distressed” version, with carbon scoring damage painted across the surface. Both were animated performing the same movement, and the compositors used animated mattes to gradually reveal the damaged ship from “behind” the intact one, covering the transitions with composited fire and explosion effects.
Thursday, March 06, 2003
From Jack to Jedi
Genndy Tartakovsky gets up at seven in the morning, spends some time having breakfast and playing with his boy, and then heads off to work, to tell tales of samurai and Jedi. The acclaimed creator of “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack” for the Cartoon Network, Tartakovsky is now helming Star Wars: Clone Wars, the series of animated shorts that will air on the network this fall.
“Clone Wars fits in my day here and there, as with everything else,” he says. “Luckily ‘Samurai Jack’ is just ending up. I finished the last storyboard in December. So, slowly, Star Wars just took over. I’ll still be doing post-production on ‘Samurai Jack’ until the very end of Star Wars, and we’ll be done Star Wars by late summer.”
Many of the talents that helped mold “Samurai Jack” into the success that it is will be working on Clone Wars. “We’re a pretty slim crew, because I wanted it to have more of a personal touch, so it doesn’t get too huge,” he says. “We have the Art Director Paul Rudish, who is doing all the main designs. The way he draws is the look of the show. We have Dave Dunnet, who is doing the background designs. Scott Wills, who is the background painter from ‘Samurai Jack.’ He’s doing all the paintings. It’s basically all the same people that did ‘Jack,’ except for a couple of new ones here and there. We have this guy from Oregon, Michel Gagne, and he’s doing all the effects designs. I wanted all the effects to be really stylized and specific, so it feels more nurtured. He’s going to design them all and animate a lot of them himself.”
Genndy Tartakovsky was born in Moscow, and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1977, the same year the first Star Wars film burst onto the silver screen. “I just missed when the first one came out, but I saw it a year after that,” he recalls. “As soon as I saw it, I fell in love. I loved comic books and cartoons when I was a kid, and samurai stuff with lots of action. So, Star Wars filled that niche with everything. It’s got great fights, great characters, a classic hero myth — that was what I was drawn to,thewhole mythology of it.”
It wasn’t long before Star Wars did sneak its way into young Tartakovsky’s sketchbook. “Just a little bit,” he notes. “I couldn’t draw that well when I was younger, so I was drawing more Scooby Doo and stuff like that. But Paul Rudish’s sketchbooks — he’s been drawing droids and stuff since he was 12. It’s been a part of our life ever since they came out”