Here you’ll find a collection of old features pertaining to various articles to do with the movies, in front & Behind-the-Scenes at SW.Com
The Look of Episode I: A Talk with Doug Chiang
Episode I’s chief artist Doug Chiang has taken up where Ralph McQuarrie’s paintbrush left off, and has brought a new look to Star Wars for the new movie. Find out about some of the influences shaping Chiang’s designs in this special interview.
Episode I is fortunate to rely upon a remarkably talented individual for the distinctive new look of its environments, spacecraft, and other elements of design. Artist Doug Chiang has taken up where the great Ralph McQuarrie left off, and has brought a fascinating imprint to Episode I. Chiang’s work includes not only the creation of a huge body of original artwork and designs, but also the supervision of the team of extraordinary conceptual artists brought together in George Lucas’ Episode I Art Department. Beyond this, Chiang works closely with the effects supervisors at ILM and is overseeing the miniature set and model construction to ensure that the Art Department’s work is translated faithfully to the screen. He is as busy now as he was in pre-production, since design is still very much in progress for some of the more elaborate sequences presently being put together.
Taking the helm of the Star Wars Art Department would be a daunting challenge for anyone, but Chiang has risen to the occasion with an appealing mix of fresh artistic style and great respect for those who built the art of Star Wars before him. An interview in Star Wars Insider #39 explores Chiang’s background. Here on http://www.starwars.com, David West Reynolds carries on from that article to explore the influences that Chiang has brought to the look of Episode I.
What kinds of thoughts got you started on the art of Episode I?
When I first started, I didn’t know whether George wanted more of the same designs that we had seen in the earlier trilogy–the kind of work that Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston had produced. So I thought a lot about trying to identify the exact look of Star Wars in Ralph’s work. I wanted to identify his visual style and the qualities that made it distinctly Star Wars, and incorporate that into my own work.
Ralph’s work displays such grandeur with striking imagery, and I wanted to try to capture that. I considered Ralph’s work very closely, and what really struck me was the clarity of design, how well his paintings and ideas read. He has a great sense of fitting bold images into unusual contexts. He present things in unfamiliar contexts, something that George likes very much–the unexpected. This approach adds to the richness and the depth of fantasy world history. In addition, Ralph’s colors are just as striking. His palette is fresh and bold, and sometimes stylized.
Stylized colors? Give me an example of what you mean by that.
[Well, for instance, Ralph’s blues in his Hoth paintings are really strong and vibrant, almost electric blues. Because the paintings work so well, you don’t realize right away that those blues are much more stylized than realistic. They’re powerfully effective at creating mood, and they feel like the actual movie scenes more than they really look like them.
Was this approach something you chose to follow in your paintings?
At first I was very uncomfortable about being so bold in my own work, but since then I have pushed myself into new territory and tried some rich color combinations as well.
In the Star Wars work of Ralph and Joe Johnston, what has been the strongest influence on you?
For me it had always been about functionality when I came up with designs. The design quality was in how well they would work, and how they were built. For George, film design quality is not about details like that, but about how well a design reads to the eye, immediately. Ralph and Joe’s works really express that. They’re very clear and bold in concept, and I have tried to learn that quality.
So has Ralph checked in on you? I notice that you have one of his original paintings on your wall there.
He has come by three times and has been really kind. I think I spend most of my time just trying to live up to his work!
But Episode I is yours! What kinds of influences can we expect to see in your Episode I designs?
George Lucas influences, to start out with! After I had spent all that time studying the Star Wars style, George came in and told me he wanted something as fresh as Ralph’s original work, but different. We’ve been saturated in designs derived from the original Star Wars look for twenty years now, and George wanted something really new. He said, “push the envelope, discover new things.” It was a surprise, but really exciting. He said, “I want chrome, sleek shapes, Art Nouveau, and Art Moderne.” That’s when I realized that this was going to be something new and not just a rework of the earlier material.
How would you describe the look you’ve developed in Episode I?
This film takes place a generation earlier than the classic trilogy, and in it you see vehicles and ships treated as art forms. Many of them are romantic and elegant. It is a craftsman’s era. Every detail is given care. It is kind of like the 1920’s and 1930’s compared to the later 20th century. Towards the later times of the classic trilogy, designs become more assembly-line like, with mass-produced aesthetics, hard angles, and a machined look. More utilitarian. The era of Episode I is more polished, more individualized, even overly-designed, but very refined. You see artistic values expressed in vehicles that are pure craft and aesthetics. Some elements are purely visual statements. Something simpler could function, but the design statements turn them into works of art.
Are there deliberate links between Episode I designs and those seen in the classic trilogy?
Absolutely. There is one ship in particular that very much foreshadows the look of a design from A New Hope, and there are other conceptual links as well.
What’s your toughest challenge in working up these new designs?
There is a fine line between a handcrafted look and a look that is “too sci-fi,” or “too design-ey.” I think that you get that “too sci-fi” look when you use present-day aesthetics and try to project it forward into a foreign world without the history to back it up. As a result these designs date very quickly. To get around this, I’ve found that you should avoid making things up without anchoring them to a strong foundation based in world history.
What areas of world art or history have you drawn on for Episode I?
I took early 1950’s American car design as a starting point for some of the space fighters, for chrome and sleek streamlining. For another culture in the film I drew on traditional African art stylization to get the look of their vehicles, their aesthetic. I combined that with hints of animal forms, and this invested the designs with personality, which is one of the hardest things to do.
What kind of design input do you get from George?
George is always very directly involved. He is a fantastic designer! Sometimes he will make very specific requests while other times he will just ask to see something different and fresh. In fact he will often ask for combinations of forms that, at first, don’t seem to fit together. But that is where George’s design genius lies, in the odd juxtaposition of unrelated images. It took me awhile to adjust to this. But this kind of direction takes the art into new areas, and we have ended up with some of our best designs by wrestling with direction that seemed impossible.
The illustrations for this feature all come from the portfolio that Doug Chiang had put together before he came on board for Episode I. We chose these artworks to demonstrate Doug’s style and range, and in them you see some of the influences that emerged later in Episode I.