Registered: Jun 2004
Ep3 Post Notes: Anti-Establishment
October 22, 2004
With so many locales to visit in Episode III, precious screen time must be committed to introducing each world. George Lucas' philosophy on planet-building is to make a strong first impression - that's why we get one-climate worlds like Hoth and Tatooine. It trades realism for cinematic impact. If a world can be covered by a single hue or terrain, it'll be clear to all audiences when the film shifts from one world to another. He was sorry to hear that some audience members weren't clear that Episode II had switched from Geonosis to Tatooine, since deserts tends to blend together, particularly at twilight.
With a dozen worlds to explore, the Art Department was tasked to create distinctive architecture and terrain for each planet that would stand out no matter what time of day. At one point, color studies of the different worlds would unfortunately blur together if the planets were depicted at dusk. "It all ended up leaning too much towards the red," Lucas recalls.
So, for added clarity, the director makes sure to properly establish each planet. That pads out the edit with long shots of slow camera moves, letting the viewer soak in each world. But is a soak really necessary?
"We're at the point in the edit where we're taking a long hard look at these things," Lucas says. "To see if we can say in three shots what we're now saying in five."
Case in point, General Grievous' approach to Utapau. It's a new planet (though the name's been kicking around Star Wars for decades - it was the original name for both Tatooine and Naboo in early draft scripts), and it'll be the first time we'll see this particular world in a film. The sequence currently spreads across five sprawling shots. The shuttle approaching planet from orbit, an aerial shot of the shuttle over the landscape, a shot of the ship coming to rest within a landing bay, Grievous' exit and march across the landing bay, and the final shot of him entering a lift to meet with his Separatist toadies.
"I hope you haven't started too far into this environment," says Lucas of the hangar bay. Stylistically, the shot echoes one seen in Return of the Jedi, of the assembled Imperial ranks awaiting the arrival of the Emperor. In this case, it's rows of battle droid infantry standing at attention. The hangar bay would only be seen in this one shot. So far, aside from a rough layout, the early work on the bay has consisted of cobbling the environment from another Utapau locale.
"At some point, I've got to stop establishing this planet," Lucas says.
As Aayla Secura marches through the underbrush of another new planet, something catches her eye. "See, here's the problem," says Lucas, stopping the playback and shining a laser pointer on the screen. "What is she looking at here?"
On set, probably nothing. It was all greenscreen, after all. But now, placed into the virtual environment of the fungus-covered planet, Aayla's furtive glance needs to be properly motivated.
"We need something to grab her attention," the director says. "Something like ... a parrot or something. It doesn't have to be a bird, but it has to have a mouth. It needs to make a noise or squawk enough for her to turn her head and look. Do we have something already built?"
"We've got a lot of things from Episode I," says Animation Director Rob Coleman. "There was a Naboo bird that we called the peko peko. We can take a look at that."
"Yeah," says Lucas. "Yeah, I really should have had her look down instead, but see what you can do with that. It doesn't necessarily have to sit there. It can fly through frame."
These are the details that become apparent when watching dailies at proper theatrical scale, which is why it's important for the work of John Knoll and Roger Guyett's visual effects units to be seen in this way. Little things like that could have easily gone unnoticed on an Avid monitor but become extremely apparent on the big screen.
Little things like the twinkling of stars. As Obi-Wan lifts off in an appropriated starfighter and finishes a conversation with a holographic Bail Organa, a starry background fills the frame behind him.
"I just thought I should point out, those are Star Trek stars," notices Knoll. At first, I'm not sure what he's talking about. Did he mean that it's some re-used background plate? No, that's not it.
"The stars. They're multi-planing. We've never seen that in a Star Wars movie before." Star Wars starfields are two-dimensional, and moving across them is like panning against an unmoving piece of artwork. Star Trek starfields are three-dimensional, where stars move at different rates. Lucas concurs with Knoll, and the shot will be revised. A little detail, but given the critical eye of the audiences for both space sagas, it undoubtedly means a lot to some people out there.
Much like Obi-Wan winced when he felt the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope, a sudden catastrophe stops Yoda in his tracks. He grimaces, greatly unsettled, disturbed by a distant and dark turn of events. In watching the animation dailies of a roughly rendered Yoda, we can see the pain in his face. Too much, it would seem, for Lucas' tastes.
"Think of it as emotional, and not physical," he suggests to the animators. With gnashing teeth, Yoda looks instead like he's suffering a heart attack, and not the heartbreak of betrayal and loss. It's a hard emotion to convey and describe.
After several attempts, the director suggests, "Think of it like ... finding out your sixteen-year old son has been arrested for dealing drugs, after all you've done for him." After a pause, he adds. "And he's a mass-murderer."
"Oh, that feeling," says Rob.
John has another suggestion. "You know that look I get when I get an email with the list of final omits? That's the one."
Total Number of Shots: 2,300
JAK Finals: 933
Final Omits: 105
Finals Needed Per Week: 59
Weeks to Go: 23
Shots Left to Go: 1,367