Special effects constraints in original Star Wars

BEVERLY HILLS (United States) • Remember the scene where Luke Skywalker failed in his first attempt to blow up the Death Star? Or when C3PO chased him up the stairs of his Tatooine desert home?

They were among countless changes made to the original Star Wars due to budget, time and technological constraints, its creators said at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills last Thursday.

At an event celebrating visual effects innovation in the classic sci-films, luminaries who created director George Lucas' 1977 blockbuster contrasted their world of filming - and sometimes blowing up - wooden Star Destroyer models with today's digital masterpieces.

"The technology... of the 1970s put considerable constraints on the way shots had to be staged," said Mr John Knoll, chief creative officer of Lucasfilm effects company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). "I don't mean whether it looked good or not, but whether you could actually put the thing together at all."

He pointed to the suit worn by C3PO actor Anthony Daniels, which restricted his vision and range of motion in the original films. On two occasions where the robotic character is supposed to go up or down stairs, editors had to cut or pan away just in time to obscure the impossibility of Daniels tackling the steps in his clunky suit.

By contrast, the human-shaped droid in 2016's Star Wars film Rogue One was entirely CGI.

While the first film was put together in a stuffy Los Angeles warehouse for US$11 million, Rogue One cost US$200 million (S$270 million) to produce.

Marcia Lucas, who won an Oscar for editing Star Wars, explained how she cobbled together an early impression of the film's climactic fight scene from World War II footage, to assist the visual effects artists - and realised a drastic change was required.

"In the script, when Luke goes down and makes his trench run, he uses the computer and misses the shot," she said. "So he goes back up to a dogfight, he has to go down again and make a second run."

Viewing her footage, the team agreed to cut out the first run entirely.

"ILM was very pleased it didn't have to do half of the special effects shots that happened when he made two runs," said Mrs Lucas, ex-wife of George Lucas, adding: "We saved some money."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2019, with the headline 'Special effects constraints in original Star Wars'. Print Edition | Subscribe