Instead of handing finished screenplays over to art departments, George Lucas worked closely with highly talented concept artists to develop Star Wars characters, vehicles, and planets while the movie's stories were still in progress. During the production of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, design supervisor Ralph McQuarrie recalled that George "wanted to get what he could see in his mind on the screen. I thought that what he expected from me was the look that he hoped for--the light, the textures, the excitement he saw in his mind's eye." The approved concept artworks served as visual guides for the designers of the Star Wars saga's many costumes, sets, and models. In The Phantom Menace, concept designer Doug Chiang says, "I realized that this was going to be something new and not just a rework of the earlier material."
George Lucas told Ralph McQuarrie that Darth Vader should be a tall, black, majestic figure with fluttering robes, possibly wearing an exotic helmet, like a Japanese warrior, with a black silk scarf across his face. Studying the original script, Ralph noticed that Vader first appeared jumping from one ship to another, so George agreed he should use a breathing system. "George liked the mask that I did for Vader," says Ralph, "with the big goggles and so he said, 'That's great, that's fine,' and we just left it with that." Ralph's sketches provided reference for costume designer John Mollo, who constructed Vader's costume to allow pieces to be removed quickly so the actor "wouldn't have to go around all day in the whole caboodle."
Assigned to develop a new Sith villain for Attack Of The Clones, concept artist Dermot Power drew from his own youthful interest in martial arts to create a vampiric and samurai-like female character. "I deliberately curved the Sith's lightsaber," Dermot says. "I wanted something exotic, almost Arabic." Dermot's sketches were temporarily shelved when the actor Christopher Lee signed on to play Count Dooku. Sidious didn't have time to train a young apprentice. However, the art was later used for Asajj Ventress, Dooku's apprentice. She now appears in Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodes, comics, and novels.
When Ralph created a poster concept for A New Hope, Chewbacca had fangs and looked much more droid-like. George had encouraged him to make C-3PO look like the robot from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). The lightsaber-wielding hero (Obi-Wan Kenobi) resembled George at the time.
When model-makers, set and lighting designers, and camera operators work together to create a sequence, production paintings help them to visualize specific scenes. After George approved the concept designs for the X-wings, TIE fighters, and the Death Star trench for A New Hope, he assigned Ralph McQuarrie to create a painting to show the scale of the Death Star in relation to the size of the starfighters. These serve as an aid to the visual effects department.
A series of drawings that illustrate the action and composition of the shots, a storyboard might also include relevant technical notes for camerawork and effects. For The Phantom Menace, storyboard artist Benton Jew sometimes extended the form of his characters beyond the rectangular "frame" (the area view of the camera) to better convey their movement.
Animatics are the simulations of scenes that clarify the timing and composition of a shot. They can be simple videotaped storyboards or complex 3-D animated computer graphics. Low-resolution animatics were sued for the entire production of Revenge Of The Sith.
With George's attention to detail, it is no accident that many Star Wars characters are immediately recognizable by their clothing. For The Phantom Menace, George asked concept artist Iain McCaig and costume designer Trisha Biggar to dress the people of Theed in the "clothing of paradise." "The costumes have all been drawn from the past," notes Trisha. "A long time ago. Not futuristic."