CELEBRATING FORTY GLORIOUS YEARS OF 'THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK' AT STARWARS.COM

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

AN 'EMPIRE' AT 40: INCOMING REINFORCEMENTS!


Arriving from the distance towards Echo Station 57, the Rogue Flight Snowspeeders soon charge past a lone Rebel turret in this great visual moment.

The Rebel turret model built at ILM for the scene, enhanced with painted backdrop on screen.


Rogue Flight has arrived! Image: via Star Wars Screen Captures website.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

AN 'EMPIRE' AT 40: FIRE AND ICE!


Cool under fire for the moment, the Rebel soldiers entrenched on the surface of Hoth take a heavy laser pounding from Imperial Walkers, in this superbly composed action image taken during the second unit crew's work on the Battle of Hoth sequence.

Monday, 28 September 2020

AN 'EMPIRE' AT 40: ILM's ROGUES TAKE FLIGHT AND FIGHT!


The Snowspeeders are on their way to fight the advancing Walkers. Here's a selection of images of the models and their filming at ILM.

Steve Gawley (centre) and model team with the components to a model Snowspeeder.


Rear shot showing one of the manoeuvring flaps operating on the Snowspeeder model.



Ken Ralston prepares a model for filming.

Filming the destruction of Rogue Two at ILM. 



Explosive detonations from pyrotechnic wizard Joe Viskocil, co-ordinated and filmed by Richard Edlund. 






Sunday, 27 September 2020

'SOLO': CORELLIA RECRUITMENT!


Hiding in plain sight within the busy Coronet City space port, a desperate Han Solo, avoiding his former slave masters and Stormtroopers, knows that the only way to escape his home world of Corellia is to become a member of the Imperial Navy, signing up for service in a different way to the filmed version, and as originally concocted by directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller for Solo: A Star Wars Story.


A different setting for the recruitment area, seen in an early teaser trailer, changed with the later reshoots.

UK comedy actor Harry Peacock as Solo's original Imperial Recruitment Officer. 


Saturday, 26 September 2020

THE PATH OF TWO! 'THE MANDALORIAN' RETURNS...

The epic television journey continues. Image: Lucasfilm/Disney+.

The enigma and cool physicality of the race via its showcased star would have been enough to win audiences over, but the additional surprise introduction of 'Baby Yoda' to the mix added critical acclaim, creative inspiration and pop culture-making freshness to the incredible success enjoyed by The Mandalorian during its premiere season on Disney+. Now, creatives Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau looks set to build on what they've prior achieved with the upcoming Season Two debuting next month, with lots of surprises and special appearance to come within their storytelling, set in that troubled era post the galaxy-changing events of Return of the Jedi...

https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a30360981/the-mandalorian-season-2/

Friday, 25 September 2020

AN 'EMPIRE' AT 40: THE ATTACK BEGINS!

The 'Snow Walkers' attack!

No longer on the far horizon distance (achieved offscreen by animation), the heavy-duty, heavily-armoured AT-AT Imperial Walkers rain down fire on the brave Rebel positions guarding their key power generator, in this great above image from ILM used in publicity for the film (The lead middle AT-AT has interior red-lighting in this posed and on screen scene- all of the Walkers were to have had this lighting but the idea fell by the wayside during post production). Note that in the above shot, energy blasters have been airbrushed on, whilst the two background Walkers are actually unmoving cardboard cutouts.

Early test reference shot with basic construction Walker models.



Phil Tippett and Jon Berg at stop motion work on the approaching Walkers.

One of the two cardboard cut-out Walkers.


https://www.starwars.com/news/empire-at-40-interview-highlights

Thursday, 24 September 2020

AN 'EMPIRE' AT 40: FILMING THE WALKERS

Phil Tippett hard at work on moving the Walkers at ILM.

Stop motion filming of the intricately pre-plotted/storyboarded/animatic Battle of Hoth sequence involving the Imperial Walkers models would fully commence at ILM by late 1979, with all the key players of the pioneering team bringing their experience, enthusiasm and long working hours to bear in bringing the spectacular sequence to life within what would be one of the most time consuming effects processes ever. 

Unused test footage of a Walker against blue screen.

The motion animators wear masks to protect them from the chemicals of the baking soda used for the Hoth surface. 

Plotting movement reference for the stop motion animation.






Ultimately, with so much of the second unit live action aerial location footage filmed on Norway location for back plate work abandoned due to inconsistent weather conditions for overlay, new young talent Michael Pangrazio's matte paintings are an excellent substitution, bringing an extra layer of vital believability to the action scenes, as does the work of the rest of the model team- having worked on a snow episode of the original Battlestar Galactica weekly TV series (the two-part Gun on Ice Planet Zero), Lorne Petersen and Steve Gawley’s experiences also prove useful, layering the model surfaces with baking powder snow that looks realistic on camera. 

Two shots of Jon Berg at work. 



With long hours, Phil Tippet would always find a way to break the monotony of filming at ILM.


Wednesday, 23 September 2020

AN 'EMPIRE' AT 40: WHEN 'WALKERS' WALKED...

Reference size/height shots of the all-new AT-AT Walker.

Though Phil Tippett and Jon Berg were always on the cards to be handling some form of stop-motion duties for Star Wars II prior to April 1978 (with their work on the chess sequence for the original Star Wars having been an element of the film that proved very popular with the film going public and impressed Lucas, it was not always set in stone that the Tauntaun/Walker scenes would be achieved via stop-motion, and that other processes for achieving the sequences were being considered. The prior rumours of the time that Lucas had sought out effects legend Ray Harryhausen for the stop motion work of the Walkers battle, however, would actually prove true. Phil Tippett recalled to CINEFEX in 1980: “Lucas approached him about doing some work on it. They went out to lunch and discussed it. Because of their schedules (Harryhausen being in Pre-Production for his upcoming Clash of the Titans, and was already behind schedule anyway), they couldn’t get it together.” 


Dennis Muren continues to CINEFEX: “I believe that the meeting happened in the early part of 1978. Thing is, I don think they ever expected Ray to actually take the job. George and Gary really wanted to meet Ray, and that was sort of a way to do it.” It was when the Empire story/script was being further developed, that the immense duties eventually undertaken by Berg/Tippett in the old style effects format, recommended by Muren, would be given serious consideration and then green lighted. Muren’s first contract work on the nature of the Walker and Tauntaun effects would begin in April 1978, with the earliest meetings with Lucas and Kurtz, followed with discussions that would now include Irvin Kershner in May/June 1978 (of which Tippett and Berg would now be properly, officially brought into the process).

A fallen Walker with an at-arms soldier atop it.
 

With their animation/ stop-motion/effects work on the then upcoming film The Primevals now ground to a halt due to financial problems, talented effects men Ken Ralston, Dave Carson and Tom St. Amand are hired by the Empire ILM team-all three providing critical contributions to the realization of the Walker/ Tauntaun sequences. With the problems of script re-writing and the much later location filmed Finse background plates proving unstable and photographically uneven, which will prove to be difficult for overlaying the effects sequences onto, a massive period of design and engineering work begins from the autumn of 1978 until the summer of 1979. Whilst Muren is in charge of working out the practicality and logistics of the effects filming, the rest of the team are at the drawing boards. 

No longer inside a Bantha costume, Mardji the elephant returns to help ILM.

To work out the movements of the Walkers and how to bring the sequence to life, Stop Motion Animator Jon Berg recalled an early idea to STAR WARS INSIDER in 2000: “I remember somebody had done a sketch on possibly doing the Walkers through some sort of marionette system. We had to figure out, first, how are we going to make these big machines -- just make them -- and then how are we going to make them move?” Motorized Walkers are also an possibility but this is ruled out early on. Berg continues: "I remember saying, 'This thing looks so much like an elephant, why don't we just go out and shoot some film?' It wound up being this whole expedition that went out -- Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett and I, and a whole camera crew. The elephant we used was a sweet Indian elephant named Mardji (who was at Marineland’s AFRICA USA enclosure in San Francisco), and she had a trainer. We shot quite a bit of footage of her walking back and forth, so we could get an idea of the motions an animal that size and configuration goes through in just walking.” Regardless of the elephant, Joe Johnston always thought the Walkers walked in a very cat-like way, recalling in 1980 to CINEFEX that he thought they moved “stiff legged, head down.” Berg would spend three months working out the design and construction of the Walker and working out its final movements. 

The primary motion of the fearsome beasts was refined further within the story. Dennis Muren recalled on the STAR WARS DEFINITIVE EDITION LASERDISC audio commentary in 1993: “Part of the idea behind their slow movement was that they could be overpowered and they would lose. That was part of George's vision on it. They were big, lumbering, you know, obsolete machines that could be overcome by a clever person in the right spot with the right weapon. I think we might have talked about it being an analogy to Vietnam...” Three primary Walker armatures would be built by Tom St. Amand using Berg’s prototype as a model. Berg recalled some of his intricate work to STAR WARS INSIDER in 2000: “One thing I did when I was designing the Walker was to create little squared off pistons in the upper legs and little doohickeys on the inside. So when you did the leg animation these little mechanisms would actually move along with it, and you'd get secondary animation that you wouldn't have to worry about doing yourself. I thought those little fun things going on with the Walker's movement would make it look like something was actually happening mechanically there.” The Walkers stood eighteen-by-twenty inches when completed by the ILM Model Shop, with St. Amand having to custom build each part from scratch, with meticulous painting by Joe Johnston (with additional help from Nilo Rodis-Jamero) brought to the models which added depth and believability to them. 

Adding further believability to the Walker sequences, having worked on a snow episode of the original Battlestar Galactica (the two-parter Gun on Ice Planet Zero), Lorne Petersen and Steve Gawley’s experiences prove useful in providing the baking powder snow miniatures set covering that will be later used during the stop motion filming. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

AN 'EMPIRE' AT 40: FIRST STEPS, BIG STEPS FOR THE 'WALKERS'!

Early development begins for the Walker, with Jon Berg, Phil Tippett and Joe Johnston at ILM.


Returned to ILM via its new locale in San Francisco in December 1978, stop motion animator Jon Berg, seeing production paintings for Empire in Gary Kurtz's office, wonders how they’ll do the upcoming, hugely ambitious snow battle launching the movie. With an early idea of using a marionette system to depict the walking war machines, Phil Tippett and Tom St. Arnaud spend three weeks developing a way to depict the movement that the still-in-flux design of the Imperial AT-AT's will have (Kurtz thinks of them as looking like dogs trotting along rather than the elephant-style creatures they will eventually become). Since the creatures, developed from a tank to a creature-like assault transport by Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, are depicted as mechanical, and without very much personality, the pair creates a personality-less walk cycle that can be used over and over again with only a few modifications. Dennis Muren, with his background in stop motion animation, decides that this format is indeed going to be the best way forward for their shooting (photographed against blue screen-the plan being that the footage will then be optically composited onto the Norway footage, though this changes to painted backgrounds). 

A test cardboard mock-up for reference.


Ease Owyeung with the early mock-up.


Joe Johnston films test footage of the Walker mock-up.


Frame development for one of the first models. 


Articulation tests begin on the metal framed and jointed model. 


Another scale reference test of one of the mock-up Walkers.




Recalls Muren from an interview with journalist Ron Magid: "It would have been neat (animating the Walkers using motion-control), but I don't know if they ever would have worked. It would've taken forever just to do it, so I introduced stop-motion back into the movie series with the Walkers. That was something the technical group didn't want to do. But stop-motion was tried-and-true and George thought it was a good idea because it made everything look more mechanical, it helped us get the movie done. The tech guys wanted to do it all blue screen, I thought the technology we'd developed for Star Wars should not be applied to those scenes because blue screen doesn't work well in the day-time. So I managed to wrangle it in the other direction, the idea being that looking through the camera we could see what was wrong with the shot, and once it was shot, it was virtually finished." 



The various model parts needed to create the Walker models.


Lucas, feeling that the Walkers mechanical design, with its animal like movements, will have a very ominous effect on screen, is surprised by this old method being resurrected, but Muren knows that the combination is much faster and more economical. Lucas and ILM even early-on invite the legendary master of the process, Ray Harryhausen, to the effects facility and offer him the sequence to realize, but he ultimately proves too busy with commitments on the eventually made Clash of the Titans

For reference purposes, photographing the movement of animals (including horses) is an idea suggested by Jon Berg and Phil Tippet, with Muren and a crew visiting Marine World Africa USA, San Diego and additionally filming Indian elephant Mardji, previously used as a Bantha in Star Wars additional US-based 1977 photography, and capturing her movements on camera  (at the same time, prototype models are also videotaped in order to study their various movement problems) - the animalistic walking of the Walkers working well in later tests.


The 'small' Walker!


The core ILM team responsible for the Walkers onscreen realisation.

Joe Johnston adding finishing details in the ILM model shop.

Jon Berg and Phil Tippett in a special publicity image with their stop motion marvels.

Even with all the pre-planning, however, it would be the finished models themselves (which varied in size from eighteen inches to four-and-a-half feet tall (the latter of which, when photographed, would look fifty foot tall)) that would eventually determine their style of locomotion.