Welcome to a look Inside the Holocron. A collection of articles from the archives of *starwars.com no longer directly available.
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From EU to Episode II: Aayla Secura
June 18, 2002 – No Small Parts
The old actor’s maxim speaks of there being no small parts, and that is very true for Star Wars. The visual tapestry is so dense with meticulously planned detail that even the most briefly glimpsed characters develop a following. Fans venerate characters like IG-88, Snaggletooth, and Aurra Sing even though they don’t have a word of dialogue, or even a full minute of screen time. Their designs are so intriguing that they demand extra attention. Sometimes, this is supplemented through licensed products, like action figures or spin-off fiction, which allow collectors and readers to learn more about said characters.
With Aayla Secura, the process had an interesting twist. She was already an existing heroine, with a built-in audience of comic book readers who understood her origins before she ever made it onto the screen. After seeing artist Jon Foster’s original cover art for issue #33 of the ongoing Star Wars series, Writer/Director George Lucas saw star potential. Aayla Secura, a blue-skinned Padawan, embodied Jedi strength and Twi’lek femininity in an eye-catching combination of beauty and power. It was the perfect ingredient for the action sequence recipe Lucas and Industrial Light & Magic were constructing, layer-by-layer.
Episode II was well into post-production when the decision to add Aayla was made, so the casting and costuming of this particular Jedi happened mostly at ILM. Stepping into Aayla’s droid-kicking boots was Amy Allen, a Production Assistant working at ILM. It was a fortuitous delay in an unrelated film that saw her entrance into Episode II. “I got to do a lot of hands-on work and really get involved with all the shows that were going on at the time,” recounts Allen. “This included A.I., Jurassic Park III, Pearl Harbor, and all the really big shows. I was on Gangs of New York for quite a long time and then it went on hiatus because the movie release date was postponed. That’s how I ended up working on a stage unit for Star Wars, which was a blessing in disguise.”
A graduate from San Francisco State University, Allen studied film and sought work in the Bay Area, landing a job at Industrial Light & Magic. Though her work was primarily behind-the-scenes, her role as Aayla was actually not the first blue Twi’lek Allen performed. “I had been a Twi’lek for the Episode I DVD,” she says. In a modification to The Phantom Menace for the DVD release, Senator Orn Free Taa’s formerly human-filled Senate pod was instead populated with Twi’leks. “George [Lucas] decided, last minute, to replace that shot. So, I was actually a blue Twi’lek probably two months after I started at ILM.”
Allen underwent makeup and a headdress fitting, and was dressed in a Senatorial aide gown designed for Episode II. She was shot against greenscreen, supervised by John Knoll, one of the Visual Effects Supervisors for both Episodes I and II. “I was interested in being in front of the camera, but it’s nothing that I actively pursued,” she admits. “But when an opportunity arises, one must take it!” Little did she expect what was to come.
Building an “Oola Jedi”
When word came down that Lucas wanted Aayla Secura in the arena, it fell to Costume Supervisor Gillian Libbert to determine how best to turn a character of pencil and ink into flesh and blood. “This is a comic book character, which doesn’t have a realistic proportion to the human body,” says Libbert. “That was our first challange.” The Aayla Secura character, as illustrated by artist Jan Duursema, is more dynamically heroic than a typical human extra. Libbert had to determine how much, if any, of that cut, muscular form to emulate in the costume. “Getting the character to look like what George wanted was our primary goal” says Libbert. “He answered a few questions we had related to the character’s body image, but it ended up that he wanted the costume to look like the comic book character and the body to be human-like.”
Libbert began gathering fabrics and materials to construct the outfit for Aayla, who at the time was often just referred to as the “Oola Jedi.” By the time of Episode II, Secura was a full-fledged Jedi Knight, but she definitely doesn’t dress like the other more conservative keepers of peace and justice. Secura’s brief wardrobe shows a fair bit of blue skin, but that didn’t make Libbert’s fabric-gathering job any easier. “What was helpful was since I was in Sydney [during principal photography], I had an idea of what fabrics were available and not used for any other character. There were a lot of incredible fabrics purchased from around the world to choose from.”
Libbert and her crew had a scant two weeks to make an outfit and dress Aayla for Lucas’ approval. Delving into storage, she uncovered several Twi’lek headdresses from Episode I and the Special Edition Trilogy. Pouring through eight huge costume crates of fabric, she collected materials to present. “I brought many different types of fabrics, leathers and trims for George to pick from. He picked the color of the headdress first and then we began dying fabric.”
Throughout the process, Libbert was on the phone to Scotland, keeping in touch with the Episode II Costume Designer, Trisha Biggar. “I would call Trish to get her advice and throughout the construction of the costume, I would send her fabric swatches and photos as the design progressed.”
As the outfit came together, Allen would come in and be fitted. Libbert and her crew would snap pictures of the developing Jedi. This was before Allen was painted the proper shade of blue, so those pictures were sent off to the ILM Art Department to digitally color Allen’s skin, to present Lucas the whole ensemble in context.
“George liked the overall look. We had to change the headdress a couple of times because he wanted a different style. He was very specific in what he wanted, down to the detailing on leather pieces and the way the leather trim was wrapped around the tentacles or lekku. ” explains Libbert.
Assisted by lead seamstress Barbara Hartman-Jenichen and leather craftsman Alan Peterson, Libbert supervised the costume’s development. The final piece-list consisted of the following items:
1 x boots w/ covers
1 x belt w/ tabs
1 x trousers
1 x leather vest
1 x top w/ bra
Trivia hounds take note — even extra scraps of Jar Jar’s leather tunic found its way into Aayla’s outfit.
The fitting of the costume was quick compared to a four-hour paint job that Allen had to endure. Lauren Vogt, from the ILM Model Shop, handled Allen’s makeup, applying the blue hue thick enough to cover Allen’s own tattoos. “She’d done the makeup the first time I had done the Twi’lek for the DVD, so she got all the little details like painting my nails and everything,” notes Allen.
Hot Lights & Cover Stories
Another performer’s maxim has to do with never letting the audience see you sweat, but in the case of the painted Allen, swinging a lightsaber under the hot lights of visual effects photography didn’t leave her much choice.
“Since I’m embracing this character so much I decided not to wear deodorant because I think that affects the way the paint is on your body,” Allen recalls. “I just stayed away from any kind of perfume, lotion, or deodorant to help Lauren keep the blue paint on. Gillian was just tweaking the costume a little bit. She had gotten real close to me and she said, ‘Well, Ames, you stink!’ Which was pretty funny, but thank God I’m close to Gillian. She can tell me things like that,” laughs Allen. “Oh yeah, I was stinky.”
The hot lights and tight schedule kept Allen active for four days of shooting. Under the direction of George Lucas and John Knoll, she combated imaginary droid and alien villains, led non-existent clone troopers into the thick of a pretend battle, and wandered the corridors of an unseen Jedi Temple.
“It went really well,” says Allen. “I had no training learning how to use the lightsaber, so I just went in and I was completely winging it.” She proved to be a natural, though the two-week rush in developing Aayla so late in post-production meant the character didn’t have her own unique weapon. “There were some extra lightsabers that were made in Sydney, so we used one of those and even used Ki-Adi-Mundi’s at one point” recalls Libbert.
In December of 2001, when starwars.com posted news of Aayla’s upcoming appearance in Episode II, there was a fair amount of bet-hedging in the announcement. “Since the film is still being edited, it’s impossible to know what — if any — her end screen-time will be,” the story read. Since that time, Aayla ended up in over half-a-dozen shots, from the Geonosian arena, to the Clone War battle, to the Jedi Temple.
Since Allen worked at ILM during the thick of post-production, she didn’t have to wait long to discover her recurring cameos in Episode II. “I kept hearing about it after dailies because everyone would make fun of me,” she laughs. “They would send me an e-mail and say, ‘oh my God, we saw you again, we saw you again.’ It started becoming a joke amongst a lot of friends here, which is good because you become close with people when you work with them so much.”
Seeing her face projected on the screen was just the start. As Episode II news began appearing everywhere, Allen got quite the surprise when she found out Time magazine had run her picture in the Yoda cover-story issue.
“At ILM, I sat with two girls, Jeanie King and Christy Castallano, and they were just freaking out when I walked into the office,” says Allen. “They said, ‘Okay, you are not going to believe this.’ At first, we thought it was just on [Time’s] website, but then I checked my messages and it was someone from the Ranch telling me that I’d better go out and get to the closest newsstand because they’re flying off the racks. That’s when I thought — wait, wait, wait. It’s in the hardcopy of Time? I went completely ballistic!”
From national magazines, to additional comic book appearances, to an upcoming action figure, Aayla’s exposure continued to grow. Allen found herself invited to Celebration II, the largest Star Wars convention ever held. She appeared on a panel entitled “Women Who Kick,” alongside such female Star Wars models and actresses as Femi Taylor (Oola), Nalini Krishan (Barriss Offee), Mary Oyaya (Luminara Unduli), Michonne Bourriague (Aurra Sing) and Shannon Baksa (Mara Jade).
“I had no idea what to expect,” admits Allen. “I wasn’t sure how well I would be accepted yet, or how many people would know me. But people do their homework. I met more women who were so excited about it. Women and young girls that were really excited that there was a female character and that she was a Jedi.”
Allen also got to meet Aayla’s co-creator, Jan Duursema, at the convention. “We hugged each other right away, and it was like an instant bond that we had,” she says. “I thanked her and told her the whole story how this had happened and she was really excited about it.” It was sort of a meeting of creators at Celebration, as Allen’s parents also met Duursema. “They really liked her and Jan is sending them some original drawings of Aayla as a keepsake. I know my mom will frame it and put it up in the house.”
Still young, Allen considers her stint as Aayla Secura as a stepping-stone to larger things. She plans on attending more conventions, and meeting face-to-face with Star Wars fans, but she is already very appreciative of all that’s transpired. “I’ve made some friends. I keep in touch with Nalini and Michonne at least a few times a week. That was something that was really cool that came out of this — meeting these women and getting to share this experience with them,” she says.
“It’s been surreal, definitely surreal,” concludes Allen. “It’s unbelievable. I would have never in my wildest dreams have imagined that something like this would have happened.”