Star Wars

Technical Innovations in Star Wars Through the Ages

We have now marked 40 years since the first Star Wars, “A New Hope” astounded moviegoers with its otherworldly look and stunning special effects. Since then, special effects have morphed into CGI and the growing pains of this change and subsequent balancing act between analogue and digital mark the three distinct “Star Wars” trilogies. As the triumph of “The Force Awakens” subsides and excitement mounts in anticipation of “The Last Jedi,” we take a look at how technical innovations shaped the look and sound of some of the most beloved (and reviled) “Star Wars” moments.

A long time ago … There were SFX.

In order to make his first Star Wars movie approximate his elaborate storyboards, George Lucas hired special effects wizard John Dykstra to head up a new company — Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Lucas’ ideas required Dykstra and his team to invent as they went along, as this quote from Dykstra in a The New Economy article demonstrates: “Back in the days of ‘Star Wars,’ we kind of walked into an empty warehouse and sat on the floor and went ‘How are we going to do this?’”

ILM has since been responsible for some of the biggest special and digital effects of the past 40 years, including the incredible leaps from SFX to VFX.

“But,” continues The New Economy, “a mere two decades after Dykstra destroyed the Death Star in ‘A New Hope’ using nothing but a cardboard box and titanium shavings, Lucas turned his back on animatronics and practical effects in favour of expanding his ‘Star Wars’ universe digitally in the prequel episodes…”

The literally unbelievable.

by istolethetv on Flickr

by istolethetv on Flickr

Indeed, the prequel trilogy pushed the limits of CGI, creating incredible virtual sets, and “the first CG star” in the form of Jar Jar Binks. But the technology was not quite there yet, which brought a little too much attention to the fact that the actors inhabited a post-production world. “Worse,” as this Wired article points out, “the special effect that was meant to be ‘The Phantom Menace’s’ crowning glory instead ended up as the biggest albatross around its neck.” Wired concludes that Jar Jar Binks “became instead emblematic of the film’s flawed CG heart.”

Sounds of a galaxy far, far away.

The famed sound designer Ben Burtt was a student at USC when he began collecting sounds of the real world destined to be manipulated into the iconic sounds of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. In an article detailing the sounds behind those sounds, Burtt is quoted as saying, “In my first discussion with George Lucas about the film, he [said] — and I concurred with him — that he wanted an ‘organic,’ as opposed to the electronic and artificial soundtrack. … Therefore we wanted to draw upon raw material from the real world: real motors, real squeaky door, real insects; this sort of thing.” An example is the use of his TV set blended with an old 35 mm projector to create the hum of a light saber.

The sound designers for “The Force Awakens” continued in Burtt’s footsteps. In a Daily Dot interview, David Acord tells how he turned his cat’s purring into Kylo Ren’s Force rumble: “It’s pitched and kind of slowed down, and it’s got a ton of low-end added to it. But you listen to it, it’s one of those things … it’s tough when you sort of pull back the curtain for sound effects, because then that’s all you’ll hear, is that. [laughs] But yeah, that’s Pork Chop purring.” Perhaps it is this seamless melding of analogue and digital that most beautifully captures the spirit of “Star Wars.”

A new movement.

The development of motion capture — the use of the physicality of actors to animate CG creations — melds together the real and virtual worlds to great and seamless effect. Although, in an effort to reclaim some of the original trilogy’s magic, “The Force Awakens” director JJ Abrams famously eschewed much of the CGI available to him, Lupita Nyong’o enlivens her CGI character with motion capture as space pirate Maz Kanata.

Supreme Leader Snokes, another CGI character played by Andy Circus of Gollum fame, will be physicalized as a giant puppet in “The Last Jedi,” according to Making Star Wars, assuring fans that the union of real and virtual wizardry continues.

What is your favorite “Star Wars” sound effect? Let us know in the comments below. And learn more about filmmaking at New York Film Academy.

What Every Die-Hard Star Wars Fan Needs to Know About Episode VIII

“The Last Jedi” is scheduled to hit theaters December 15, 2017, and that’s not nearly soon enough for die-hard “Star Wars” fans. Last month an intriguing and somewhat mystifying first teaser trailer was unveiled at Star Wars Celebration, and it certainly set the precedent for a half year of “Star Wars” excitement, speculation, and even outrage. So, here we go; a roundup of what you must know about the next installment of the “Star Wars” saga.

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

This fateful quote ends the first “Episode VIII” trailer, and what a teaser it is. There’s a lot of theories and no way to know if “The Last Jedi” refers to Luke himself or Rey, or if, as this CinemaBlend article reminds us, “Does the fact that Jedi is the plural of Jedi factor in?”

The case of the moving scar…

With the release of the above trailer, director Rian Johnson found himself in some Twitter awkwardness. It seems some keen-eyed fans noticed that Kylo Ren’s scar that he received from Rey at the end of “The Force Awakens” (which was directed by JJ Abrams) had moved. According to a Mashable article, Johnson at first denied the move — from across Kylo’s nose to over his eye — and then admitted it, saying, “It honestly looked goofy running straight up the bridge of his nose.” And as the article concludes, “If there’s one sin in ‘Star Wars’ world greater than a continuity error, it’s goofiness.”

The “Force Tree.”

There’s been some talk about trees entering the “Star Wars” universe, so much so that DigitalSpy dubbed the episode “Weird Trees Rising,” causing the London Natural History Museum wrap party to take on great significance!  

Princess Leia lives on.

by jimivr on flickr

by jimivr on flickr

After the sudden sad death of beloved Carrie Fisher last December, seeing her on screen alive in all her General Leia Organa glory will surely be a bittersweet experience. All filming for “Episode VIII” had wrapped before her death, but according to the Hollywood Reporter, she was to play an even bigger role in Episode IX. This means the producers and directors have some difficult problems to solve. They may have to cut her scenes in Episode VIII, or attempt to create Princess Leia using CGI as they did in “Rogue One.”

The good, the bad, and the newcomers.

As for the rest of the cast, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy assured fans at “The Force Awakens” premiere that all the cast in attendance would be returning — which means that Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels and Lupita Nyong’o will be back, according to an article at DigitalSpy, as well as Mark Hamill, who will “finally get to do something as old man Luke Skywalker other than stand around looking serious.” Rumors regarding his relationship to Rey and his powers abound, including a theory that he may be able to “crash a First Order Star Destroyer” using the Force.

Joining the cast is Benicio del Toro as (maybe) a villain, definitely in black, and Laura Dern, who will be outrageously glamorous (possibly with pink hair), but as for how they fit into the epic’s genealogy, all is on a strictly need-to-know basis — Dern apparently won’t even tell her own kids…

Who and what do you hope to see in “Episode VIII”? Let us know in the comments below.

 

A Look at “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is unlike any “Star Wars” film before it. Its focus is on a ragtag group of would-be heroes defying command to stop the Empire. Okay, so it’s a little like a “Star Wars” film you’ve seen before, but not entirely. What sets it apart from all seven of its predecessors (plus that wookie movie we don’t talk about) is that it doesn’t focus on the Skywalker family.

star wars

The Synopsis

Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, is a young woman whose father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is abducted by the Empire and forced to build a weapon of mass destruction. However, he slips a fatal flaw into the machine. He sends a message to the man he entrusted with his daughter, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker). From there Jyn embarks on an adventure across the cosmos to stop her father’s worst nightmare from coming true.

By following a new team there is now precedent to explore all kinds of stories within the universe — from Mandalorians to Sith deserters — and even folks who exist outside of the war. The galaxy is a large space and there are a lot of stories to explore.

rogue one

Production

When Disney purchased the rights to “Star Wars” they retired all the comic, novel, and video game lines. These stories are now referred to as “Star Wars” Legends. The material here is ripe for reimagining.

The score also establishes a new tone in “Rogue One.” The traditional fanfare of John Williams has been replaced with the magical lilting sounds of Michael Giacchino. Other works from Giacchino include “Ratatouille,” “Lost,” “Cars,” “The Incredibles,” “Super 8,” “Let Me In,” and “Up,” for which he won an Academy Award.

Fans of the original score might miss the drama and tension Williams famously added to the original films, but Giacchino should be given a chance. He makes the smart decision to play on a nostalgic audience. Choosing whimsy and discovery over military-style marches to inspire hope in a hopeless time. His music is soft but powerful and it’s a welcome new sound.

The Visuals & Cameras

Cinematically this film is unique because it’s not shot like a space opera, it’s shot like a war flick. Beach scene battles feel like every World War II film. The same amount of attention is given to closeups as is given to big fight sequences.

Cinematographer, Greg Fraser (“Killing Them Softly,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” & “Foxcatcher”) didn’t rely on a single camera to create this look. He used a combination of digital, film, and refurbished lenses to achieve his goals. His goodie bag included the Arri’s Alexa 65, the Ultra Panavision 70 anamorphic lenses (which Tarantino used on The Hateful 8), and 35 mm film.

When Tarantino announced he would be reviving the Ultra Panavision 70 it caused a stir amongst cinephiles everywhere. Cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator”) said of the lens in an interview with IndieWire.com, “When we saw Sam Jackson in a closeup — or anyone — it just aided the skin. It’s remarkable. We never used diffusion, the only filters we ever did were outside. It was stunning.”

The Arri Alexa 65 is a 6K, large-format camera that has been used in productions from the “Revenant” to “The Great Wall.” The only way to get the camera is through Arri rentals, but studios and indie productions alike are willing to spend the cash to get the crisp images. The camera is reported to have 26% more visibility on Imax.

The combination of classic film, clear digital, and sharp lenses give “Rogue One” a unique look. Blending both classic Hollywood style and modern action sequences to tell a breathtaking story that is both a war drama and a science-fiction thriller.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a one-of-a-kind experience that is now playing in theaters.

Looking At The Relationship Between Video Games And Movies

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 4.22.47 PM

Recently, the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film, based on Ubisoft’s annual game series, finished filming. While those who remember 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time might not have their hopes up, many are excited to see if a movie can capture what has made the Assassin’s Creed series so popular. The fact that the Ubisoft is planning six more movies based off their key franchises shows how much interest there is in game-based movies today.

The Early Days – 80s and early 90s

Games and movies have a long and interesting relationship. Thanks to improvements in graphics and processor speed, today’s generation doesn’t see much difference between games and movies aside from the fact that games are “interactive.” However, a few decades ago, people would have a hard time picturing that games would one day be as immersive and visually impressive as a Hollywood blockbuster.

Chrono Trigger

This didn’t stop developers of the 80s and early 90s from trying to tell a good story. Instead of relying on realism and special effects, those designers used captivating characters, plots, and worlds to keep players hooked. Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, and Final Fantasy VI are all titles that, despite being outdated visually by today’s standards, still hold a special place in people’s hearts due to their amazing storytelling.

The Cutscene Era – mid 90s to 2010

When 3D games started hitting the market in the mid 90s, the video game industry experienced a massive increase in cultural relevance. Players world-wide remember the first time they explored Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64, Midgar’s slums in Final Fantasy VII, and Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time. As the virtual environments and characters started looking more and more realistic, developers began borrowing ideas from the film industry.

Metal Gear Solid

This led to much more prominent use of animated cutscenes—a storytelling device using the full range of cinematic techniques. Final Fantasy VII’s cutscenes were breathtaking at the time and one of the most beloved aspects of the legendary JRPG. Gamers would progress through the game hoping they’d encounter the next gorgeous cutscene. Many other titles including Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil also made heavy use of non-interactive scenes to further the story, show important events, and wow gamers with beautiful graphics.

These days gamers still love cutscenes, but not if they detract from gameplay. Despite having best-in-class visuals, titles like The Order: 1887 and Final Fantasy XIII were criticized for stripping players of control of their experience far too often. Thus, developers have learned to strike a balance between gameplay and cutscenes.

The Rise Of Cross-Media – 2010 to present

Nowadays, movies and games influence each other more than ever before. Developers still utilize storytelling and filmic techniques from our favorite movies and books). If you don’t believe us, play the first 15 minutes of Last of Us or a few missions from any Grand Theft Auto game and see how many of them you notice are inspired by popular movies. A lot of games—such as King’s Quest, Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones – A Telltale Games Series, and others—are also taking an episodic approach to keep players engaged over long periods of time, much like a television series or film trilogy.

Star Wars Battlefront

Given the extreme popularity of video games it make sense that more Hollywood studios are releasing movies based on games. A few examples are the Warcraft movie scheduled for release in Summer 2016, the Assassin’s Creed movie mentioned earlier, and even movies based on Asteroids and The Sims in the works, This trend is only growing, which means we can also more films based off video games as the years go by.

The Near Future

It has taken a long time but video games have finally earned respect for the stories they tell, even from those who don’t play games. With new innovations coming our way, such as the arrival of virtual reality, it’s possible that games will even surpass movies as the go-to entertainment for getting lost in enticing characters, stories, and worlds.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

5 Scrapped Star Wars Ideas that Would Have Changed EVERYTHING

cockpit of the millennium falcon

Very few franchises can claim to have an extended universe quite as in depth as Star Wars, but the mythos surrounding the creation of the movies is arguably even more expansive.

For every one idea George Lucas came up with, it seems like a thousand others were either discarded, lost in development or left on the cutting room floor. So with the new saga almost here and having looked at the series’ contribution to CGI’s development, join us as we travel to a parallel galaxy far, far away and discuss what is, what was, and what might have been…

1. Obi-Wan Killed Your Father?

What Happens in the Movie: The immortal line, as spoken by James Earl Jones: “I am your father.”

How This Could Have Played Out: “A hugely different plot twist, because the line was originally “Obi-Wan killed your father.” This was actually in the script circulated to everyone working on the movie, and was spoken on set in the cut you see today (albeit later overdubbed with the line we all know.) Really, it wouldn’t have broken any of the plot that came before this moment if Vader had said this. After all, in Vader’s mind, Obi-Wan was (kinda) responsible for the death of Anakin Skywalker, so his line would hold up to internal logic when taken figuratively.

What would have changed is everything after this moment, particularly regarding the effect it would have had on Luke’s endgame. It’s a sliding doors moment, and could have gone one of two ways: with everything he’d been taught by Obi-Wan now burnt to ashes, Luke may well have thrown his one good hand in the air and said “Fine, that tears it. I’ll join you, then.”

Or alternatively, if that wasn’t enough to crush his commitment to the rebellion, he might have doubled-down on his commitment to topple the empire and would have had no reason to try and bring Vader back from the dark side… and the final duel in Return of the Jedi would have played out very differently indeed!

2. Jar Jar Binks: An Evil Motivation

What Happens in the Movie: In The Phantom Menace, the Jedi escape an assassination attempt and end up on Naboo. In the midst of invasion, Qui-Gon saves everyone’s favorite character, Jar Jar Binks, who takes them all to his home city to seek assistance from his people.

What Nearly Happened: In the final cut, the Gungans reluctantly offer help to the outcast Jar Jar and his new friends… but according to early storyboards, the underwater city is totally destroyed on their arrival and Jar Jar believes his race have been wiped out in the carnage. This was deemed too dark for the movie, and the idea was dropped.

How This Could Have Played Out: The slaughter of your entire race does little to improve one’s mood, and this dark twist would surely have had a massive impact on Binks’ usually jovial mental state (not to mention the character’s goals and motivations for the rest of the movie.) It isn’t clear who would have been responsible for the Otoh Gunga city’s destruction, but chances are the hapless Binks would have been hell-bent on revenge at this point… perhaps lending credence to the popular fan theory doing the rounds that he went on to become some kind of Sith Lord?

After all, his whereabouts and ultimate fate have not been accounted for in canon (so far), and there are some notable instances in which he appears to use the Force.

Could it be that Jar Jar is the behind-the-scenes instigator of much of the Star Wars plot, and the only thing left on the cutting room floor was the event giving him his motivation?

3. Brotherly Love

What Happens in the Movies: Darth Vader and Boba Fett are not brothers.

What Nearly Happened: The opposite. According to Dale Pollock’s book Skywalking, George Lucas’ ex-wife stated that the director intended to reveal at some point during the prequel trilogy that the bounty hunter and Sith Lord were, in fact, biological brothers.

How This Could Have Played Out: Anyone’s guess, really, but a bigger mystery is how Lucas could have possibly tied together both Anakin and Boba’s origin stories to make the concept plausible in the first place. If that was somehow achieved, the idea could have resulted in some spectacular scenes and interactions between the two… but it’s probably for the best that Lucas decided yet another family reveal shocker was “too hokey.”

4. A Female Darth Maul

What Happened in the Movie: Darth Maul was male.

What Nearly Happened: Darth Maul was originally conceived as being a female character, but this got switched at some point during development.

How This Could Have Played Out: Not much differently than it did in The Phantom Menace we all know and love today, though it would have been very cool to see Maul’s twirling antics being carried out by a female athlete. Regardless, it certainly would have brought balance to the Force of a different kind, with very few female Sith Lords (or Jedis for that matter) in the Star Wars universe, and none in the original six movies.

5. Padme’s Ultimate Betrayal

What Happens in the Movie: After watching Anakin’s decent towards the dark side over the course of the original trilogy, we finally come to the final act that pushes him over the edge near the end of Revenge of the Sith.

The crazed Skywalker believeswronglythat Padme has deceptively lead Obi-Wan directly to him, and the betrayal sends him into berserker mode. In reality, Padme had no idea Obi-Wan was hidden aboard her ship and was even against the idea of the two confronting one another.

What Nearly Happened: The betrayal on Padme’s part was almost a more dramatic and very conscious actonce again, early storyboards hint of an alternate idea in which Padme was intended to pull a concealed knife on Anakin during their final meeting with the plan of assassinating him for his crimes.

How This Could Have Played Out: If a perceived slight from his lover was enough to have Anakin dive headlong past the point of no return, imagine how much worse it could have been if that betrayal was murderous?

The interim results may have ended up the samePadme killed, Obi-Wan and Anakin fighting, the latter becoming Vaderbut the difference being that he may have been pushed so far to the dark side that he never found it in him to save Luke in the final Return of the Jedi standoff.

In short, one knife could have resulted in a dark end for the original trilogy (and with Vader not preventing Luke Skywalker’s death, assumedly a big knock-on effect to the new trilogy too.)

Got a differing opinion of how any of these scrapped scenarios would have played out? Any alternate and tantalizing theories of what could be going behind the scenes of the first six movies?

Scroll on downwards to the comments!

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5 Films That Play Out The Monomyth

Monomyth diagram

A lot of people think that there are only a handful of stories out there to tell, and every script falls under one of those plots. One of those stories could be the hero’s journey, or the monomyth, a concept developed by writer Joseph Campbell in his work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Borrowing the term from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Campbell describes the monomyth as a recurring pattern shared by multiple famous works from different times and cultures. Needless to say, it is a concept with which any student enrolled in screenwriting school would be intimately familiar.

This pattern focuses on a single protagonist following a distinct arc, with many of the same beats on that arc. Figures that follow this epic journey include Moses, Jesus Christ and the Buddha. But it’s not just classic stories that use the monomyth—it can be found throughout modern pop-culture, and is the foundation for many of the superhero and Young Adult themed franchises dominating Hollywood right now.

Here, then, are just five famous examples of the omnipresent monomyth:

1. The Matrix

The first step in the hero’s journey is the call to action, where a seemingly normal person in a normal, mundane life is brought into the larger, more fantastical world. In this case, cubicle drone Thomas Anderson follows the white rabbit and ends up discovering the Matrix and the Real World. He gains amazing powers and saves both worlds as Neo.

Neo in his cubicle in The Matrix

2. Men in Black

Following the same path as Neo is NYPD Officer James Edwards, who finds out that aliens live among us when he joins the MiB as Agent J. A crucial component of the monomyth is supernatural aid in the form of a mentor or guide. Neo had Morpheus and Agent J had Agent K.

Will Smith’s lead character must enter the Belly of the Whale, the monomyth step where the hero separates fully from the normal world, never able to return. Edwards does this when his identity and even his fingerprints are erased, permanently becoming Agent J.

3. The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen is a recent example of the monomyth, a normal girl from humble roots who enters the strange world of the Capital and the Arena and uses her superior skills at archery, hunting, and problem solving to take down tough competition and an entire evil empire. While doing so, she must follow the Road of Trials, the first step of the monomythic second major arc, Initiation. This includes winning over sponsors and allies while impressing the Gamemakers during training, and then competing in the Hunger Games itself.

Katniss Everdeen with bow in The Hunger Games

4. The Lion King

While science fiction and fantasy often use the monomyth, it doesn’t mean it can’t be found in genres. One famous example is The Lion King, itself an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. After Simba is cast out into the strange jungle world outside of his pride, he makes peace with his new life and surroundings, enjoying the good life with his two mentors, Timon and Pumbaa. This stage is called the Apotheosis, a period of recharging before the hero’s return arc, often after he or she has even died. In this case, Simba didn’t physically die, but his ties to his Pride have. This step follows Atonement with the Father, which Simba does much more literally while speaking with the ghost of his dad, Mustafa.

5. Star Wars

Luke Skywalker on Tatooine

Not necessarily the entire trilogy (or hexalogy, or soon-to-be ennealogy) but specifically episode IV, A New Hope, is a classic example of the monomyth. In the span of the first film, Luke Skywalker goes from an innocent farmer on a backwater planet to a wielder of the Force and the hero of the empire. He becomes the Master of Two Worlds, the penultimate step of the monomyth, when he joins his material piloting skills with his spiritual Jedi abilities to make a one-in-a-million shot to destroy the Death Star and save the day. This also becomes Luke’s Freedom to Live, the final step. Luke would have more training and would confront his father in the future, but when describing the monomyth, Joseph Campbell wasn’t thinking of the era of never-ending sequels and spin-offs. Nobody’s perfect.