Star Wars Creative Team Strives for Realism in Fantasy

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Rey (Daisy Ridley)..Ph: David James..© 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

Despite the astonishing technical advances since the first “Star Wars” film was released in 1977, the panelists on the Monday Creative Master series session “Awaken to the Power Behind the Force—The Making of ‘Star Wars’” were most concerned with continuity, maintaining and sustaining an authentic, believable, familiar universe for generations of fans. (This fan base includes the panelists themselves; upon learning they were working on a “Star Wars” film, each promptly called his mother.)

Produced in partnership with the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE), the session featured members of the film’s sound and visual effects teams: Matt Wood, supervising sound editor, Skywalker Sound; Pat Tubach, visual effects supervisor, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM); and James Clyne, visual effects art director, also at ILM. Moderated by Bryan Bishop, senior reporter at The Verge, the event examined the creation of some of the action sequences in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the development of everyone’s favorite new droid, BB-8, and the challenges of drawing from
and building on a legacy of memorable imagery and sound.

Recalling the very first “Star Wars,” Tubach noted that the film was “an amazing piece of art and technology” and presented “images nobody had seen before.” When starting to conceptualize what would become “Episode VII,” the ILM team (working in office bearing a sign that read “Do Not Enter,” accompanied by a picture of Darth Vader) discussed ways of incorporating and updating “familiar elements” from the “Star Wars” series — ones that Wood describes as “part of our cultural consciousness.” Added Tubach, “It had to feel like the same universe.”

In many cases, this effort required going back to original designs, files and recordings. This could mean resurrecting spacecraft — the first time the audience meets the character Rey (Daisy Ridley), she is scavenging from what turns out to be a Star Destroyer used in a previous film — so the ship’s interior was faithfully, digitally rebuilt. Similarly, Clyne recalls, the ILM team constructed (and then subsequently decayed) the Millennium Falcon in a process that ended up taking about a year. “Every nut and bolt is there,” Clyne said.

Tubach stressed the importance of preserving materials for future projects and deploying a unified asset system to manage elements from each of the films. (For example, to create the sound of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, Wood combined original files with a range of new recordings, and even the purr from the sound designer’s cat Pork Chop.)

Throughout the film’s production, the panelists were able to review material in progress using Cospective’s cineSync remote review and approval software, whether director J.J. Abrams was at Pinewood Studios in London, Abu Dhabi, Iceland or any of the other locations used for the film. “We
could look at shots in progress, we could watch J.J. give direction,” recalled Wood. This, they felt, made the experience a team effort throughout.

“Filmmaking,” Clyne emphasized, “is a collaboration.”