Star Wars Weekends 2005, Week 2

Star Wars Weekends excitement this weekend as we had both Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Animation Director Rob Coleman from ILM. Rob and Peter told some great stories about making Episode III during the interview sessions.

Peter talked about the scene where Chewie scoops up Yoda. Seems that was a last minute addition by George Lucas. They were on a blue screen set filming the scene and Yoda was actually a bag of corn meal. They did a few takes where Chewie and Tarfful run by the bag, and on one of the last ones, Peter said George told him to pick up Yoda. He scooped up the bag, much to the chagrin of Rob, who was standing behind the stage watching. Rob said, “I was sitting there calculating how many frames we’d need to animate the character, hoping Peter had moved through the scene slow enough and was just horrified by the idea of having to have this digital character interact with this real character with all this real FUR!”

“I looked over at George, ready to tell him how hard this was going to be, and he just looked at me and said, ‘You’ll figure out how to do it later.'” Rob had a good laugh about the whole thing, and from my point of view it’s such a great scene and will certainly become one of the iconic moments of Star Wars to me.

Rob also talked about how he got to direct the live-action Wookiees in Ep3. He directed the group shot of the Wookiees and the shot where the two Wookiees attack the Separatist amphibious vehicle. “George just came up to me one day and said, ‘I think you’re ready to direct some live action now.'”

“I had never really thought about it, and I was so busy with the animation I just kind of said, oh, okay, and never really thought about it again until I was on the plane to Sydney and it hit me, I’m directing a scene in a Star Wars movie! I just started having this terrific fanboy moment.”

That’s one of my favorite things about the Lucasfilm people I’ve met — they’re all fans. Rob even made a comment about how he worked hard on all this stuff because he loved Star Wars so much. It’s nice to know that the people working on Star Wars are truly fans of the films.

Rob also talked about how they tried to get the animators away from their desks and “acting” for this movie. He showed some great footage of some reference he shot of himself hanging from a ledge at ILM. The footage was used to create the facial expressions for Yoda as he hangs from the Senate pod in the movie. Rob said he was very focused on making this last movie some of the best animation they’d done. Yoda had a complete makeover, with new skin, hair, and clothes. They added some translucency to the tips of his ears, which is very apparent in the film and very kewl looking. But most of all they studied things like the performances of digital characters like Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies and tried to bring real acting to the characters. I think it’s plain to see that they have succeeded in making some of the best character animation to date in a film.

More next week, from Star Wars Weekends!