Greetings from Star Wars: Celebration VI! We’re getting started with our LIVE coverage of the show here in a brand new way on Blog@!
Starting off the show is a discussion on the technology behind your favorite CGI animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Supervising Director Dave Filoni and VFX Supervisor Joel Aron will be taking us behind-the-scenes of The Clone Wars here in Valencia Theater in Orlando, FL.
Stay tuned and keep the refresh button handy starting at 1130am EDT, as we’ll be updating as we go!
The theater is filling up nicely this Thursday morning for the first big panel of the show. Our host is out, David Collins, voice actor and musician, director, and more. Collins did a quick rundown of the panels in the Valencia Theater today before introducing the panelists for Clone Wars.
“I love this show, we all love this show. Celebration and Clone Wars go back to 2007 where we first introduced it. They’ll be talking about the visual effects for Clone Wars.”
The two took the stage to extensive applause, with Filoni wearing his signature Cowboy Hat.
Collins noted the huge difference between the effects in Season 1 and Season 4.
Aron said “We talked about how we made that so much better with more detailed sets, more fluid animation. On top of that, I wanted to make the show a lot more cinematic. When you do watch it in the 2.35 aspect ratio, you can see how cinematic we made it. So going into Season 4, that was all done over a year ago, so you can only imagine how Season 5 is going to look.”
Collins asked about when Filoni came to Aron and his team about Jedi General Krell.
Filoni: “That’s not that hard for Joel, though, a four-armed general is easy. A wookiee on fire leaping from a tree into water, that’s hard, that’s the sort of thing that I come to him ahead of time on. Things like Mother Talzen, and her fluidly moving cloak, we do that months and months before we actually animate the episode.”
Aron said he will often do months of development on a shot, only to scrap it and redo in a completely different way with about 2 weeks left. “Krell’s challenge was more on the facial animators to get all the emotion in there,” he said.
As far as the design of planets goes, Filoni said his design team starts by just painting it out “with as much detail as possible,” before going to Joel and the modelers. “Spaceship hallways, capitol buildings we can do for days, but getting the plantlife, the trees looking more realistic is the challenge.”
I’ll go to Joel and those guys and say, “You know what I noticed guys? The trees outside are always moving, but the ones in my show are not!” And Joel will come back and say “We can do it, we’ll find a way!” “That’s our job, to find out what goes in these shots that makes it feel like you’re actually out there,” Filoni added.
Filoni went into their effects philosophy next.
“I grew up with effects that just tricked you, that made you THINK you were seeing something. Cardboard and duct tape. That’s how we approach it, that’s why Joel is so successful, he’s aware he just needs to deceive you for 8 frames into thinking something exploded. He’s my deceiver, my wizard, my Merlin.”
Next the panel talked more about Krell, the treacherous 4-armed Jedi General from Season 4, showing the design work on screen.
“We knew we were going to be on the same planet for four episodes, so the team was able to get into a nice groove there,” said Aron.
Filoni actually worked on the initial design of Krell while he was sitting in a room with George Lucas coming up with the full season. As they talked about the General, he drew Krell ripping off arms from clone troopers – something that couldn’t quite make it onto the show.
Aron said they had to update ever single character’s facial animations each season to make them seem more realistic, and having a character with a big heavy face like Krell makes it all the more challenging. Filoni, meanwhile focused on making the tech on Umbara very unique, with things like the holograms being “different than you’ve ever seen before.”
When Filoni went to Aron and said “Can you make the hologram look like it’s made up of millions of little cube particles?” he expected a no, but Aron said that effect wound up being relatively easy.
The design sketches actually give the lighting effects right from the start, and Aron said he frequently re-purposes tricks for new episodes, which helps cut time. With a new planet, you’re designing the planet, the plant life, the fauna, the technology indoors and out, the new ships, the new vehicles like tanks in the case of Umbara. But he noted sometimes if you want there to be a lot of tanks, you can just aim lights and fog everywhere instead of showing the tanks themselves.
After showing a clip demonstrating that effect, the panel talked a bit more about lighting, and how to keep the planet looking dark and disturbing, but being able to see the characters.
“If you look at the concept art, we were using a lot more purple, but we leaned into using red, it seemed a lot more threatening than just having a big Justin Bieber planet,” joked Aron. “But it’s very important to see the shapes. With Umbara, keeping it dark, allows us to make the accents a lot brighter. So the renders come in a lot harder, with how much we can crush down in the blacks and pull up in the highs.”
“Umbara was a big lesson for all of us. We learned how to keep more characters in frame, how to have more blasters. Like Dave said, it’s all about the tricks though, sometimes we don’t need to see the walker, we need to see the camera angle from the walker,” Aron noted after a clip showing a similar shot. Filoni noted “it’s the sum of all the little moments that makes animation really work.”
Now we’re into resurrecting the Sith Lord Darth Maul!
“Maul was wrapping up our Season 4. We needed to go full throttle on it,” said Aron. “The model was stunning. Dave’s trust in us – I can’t thank him enough. We knew what Dave wanted and found a way to do it in time. Every artist stepped up to the plate from the effects to the lighting.”
Filoni added, “He took all his best knowledge from the other characters and put it into Maul. Those animations paired with the voice of Sam Witwer are just incredible. The models in the Clone Wars movie didn’t do that, didn’t have that depth and the cheeks moving with every little breath.”
As far as the Maul with spider-legs, Aron showed a clip, then talked about creating the mad, tortured creature.
The character had to be able to simultaneously have the clanking spider-legs and have his torso and face and arms move all over the place.
Maul coming back was “all George. We were in the writer’s room and he said ‘let’s bring back Darth Maul.’” said Filoni. “I told him that’s really hard – you cut him in half! But I’ll say publicly, he’s rarely wrong with that stuff. And I think it worked out really well. We don’t take it lightly, we want to make it as believable as possible. When we tied in the witchcraft with Mother Talzen, I thought that made it work more. He doesn’t remember at this stage who he is or what he is, but the force just pulled this junk together and made this spider-like shape.”
Maul’s spider-body was originally much looser to really show the way it’s held together by the Force, but that was a little too much detail for the show. There are a few little parts that shake and quiver to give the impression of it, however, Aron noted.
Talking about Maul’s resurrection, Aron and Filoni said they used the Halloween trick snakes, the little black pellets that you light on fire and see as they grow out. “We had all these wires and mechanical things, and fused them with Talzen’s magic. I don’t think Talzen or Savage have the technical knowhow to whip together these robot raptor legs, but with magic it can.
“Evil never allows an end to their life, Darth Maul or Darth Vader. If they die, there’s nothing for them after death. What does Sidious want more than anything? He wants that power, to live forever. But Obi-Wan shows you have to learn to let go of the self, that selfish desire, in order to live forever in the force,” said Filoni, waxing philosophical about how Maul survived on hatred.
Going back into the resurrection scene itself, with Talzen using the fire and the metal of the new legs forming, the clip was shown. As Talzen put maul to sleep, the spider legs begin to fall apart. Talzen pulls the madness out of maul in wisps of smoke, and lifts his torso, pulling the electronics to his body to form his new legs on their own. They are more than just mechanical now, fused to him, a true part of him.
Redesigning Maul took Aron and his team some time, with things like the feet on his new legs, which are each little spiders of their own. Aron showed some of his paintings, where he will manually paint over a 3D story reel so “the effects artist isn’t tied to a simulation, but to an actual drawing first.” He said that brings a “much more organic feel to it.”
Filoni said “There was this thing in the original take, where the burning ran up the leg and shook it; we fixed it so late that the shot cuts before it gets to the toes and that drives me so nuts. It was great, it was so great, and it drives me nuts everytime we see that. I bring it up all the time, “George, you did those special editions, do I get one of those?” Maybe someday…” He also praised Sam Witwer’s performance in that scene in particular once more.
Collins is trying to get some Season 5 news out of the panelists now.
Filoni said “We’ve gotten a lot better at making snow! Ice and snow will be all over Season 5. If you love snow, this season (and the clip we’re showing) will be for you.”
The clip showed Anakin chased by a dog like creature, and a character hopping on his helmet, using it as a snowboard in a chase sequence that leads our heroes down a mountain, flakes flying everywhere. Thunderous applause for the chase sequence.
Filoni said it was very much based off a similar scene in a Bond film.
Fan Q&A time!
Q: What’s the craziest thing Dave has asked you to come up with, Joel?
Joel: I try to take everything with a can-do attitude. Like MacGuyver I know somehow I’m going to get it done. When Dave comes to me with something, I have such an amazing team, we all work together to get it done. I feed off of this. There is some stuff in Season 5 that was extremely challenging, you’ll see that soon!
Dave: Good! I like hearing that.
The next couple questions asked about some goofy individual Star Wars characters, and Filoni made some light jokes about them.
Q: What leads you to the decisions that build into these individual episodes?
Dave: Trusting the people around you. I am in a unique position with this team that I don’t ever have to push them. I will always say to George at the end of the day that it’s on me. I know that, they know that, and that gives them the confidence they need to go forward with this and do their thing. My rule is that if I see something and I don’t like it, I give it a week and if I still don’t, then I’ll ask them to change it.
An odd thing I did once that I did just to make a point. There was this guy serving a cake with Yokum fruit on top of it. The cake was just so lackluster, “Guys come on you can make an awesome starship but you’re going to give me this cake?” So I made them redo that, and it looked better!
Collins wrapped it up then, with Filoni laughing that they ended on cake. That’s all for this one, folks, join us in about an hour for Dark Horse Comics future of Star Wars panel!