When George Lucas founded the visual effects company named Industrial Lights And Magic (ILM), he hired a group of young model-makers to build the vehicles designed by model-makers Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston for Star Wars. Supervisor Steve Gawley has been with ILM since it was formed in 1975, and has helped to create more than 40 films. Steve says, "Throughout the years, we have built trains, planes, automobiles, spaceships, creatures, and everything in between. Additionally, we can help the directors of various projects see things in 3-D by providing maquettes [concept models] before they are realized in digital form."
Shooting Stop-Motion Models
Stop-motion animation is the process of filming models one frame at a time, with constant adjustments to the model being made for each frame to create the illusion of motion when the film is played at normal speed. The Imperial AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back were created by John Berg and Tom St. Amand from concept sketches by Joe Johnston. For the prototype, Berg created moving moving parts that included small squared-off pistons in the upper legs, which made the AT-ATs appear more mechanically operational.
Special-creature designer Stuart Freeborn sculpted the foam latex puppet for Yoda for V, and engineered the mechanisms to control its eyes, mouth, and ears. The aged Jedi Master was brought to life by puppeteer Frank Oz, who also supplied his voice. For the prequel trilogy, Yoda, like many other Star Wars characters, was brought to life by CG and puppets were no longer used by Lucasfilm.
Working by concept sketches by Edwin Natividad, Micheal P. Murnane of the Skywalker Ranch concept art department worked with Sculpey, a clay-like compound, to create a preproduction concept model of Zam Wesell. "Some people see a drawing differently," notes Micheal, "but when you hand over a 3-D model, you won't have to explain much. It helps to talk on the same level." The maquette served as the basis for the wardrobe department's final costume for Zam.
Luke Skywalker's landspeeder was a full-scale mechanical prop made for A New Hope. Built in England, one version of the landspeeder was a 3-wheeled motorized vehicle, which was used for location shots in Africa. Later it was shipped to California for further shots in Death Valley.
To create the rancor monster for Return Of The Jedi, creature designer Phil Tippett used a 2-foot rod puppet, made of foam and rubber. It was controlled by 3 puppeteers.
Used as a visual guide for set builders, set models also create the positions for the cameras and actors. The production art department maquette for the Yavin 4 hangar in A New Hope was made of paper and cardboard.
Revenge Of The Sith features the largest miniature ever built for a Star Wars film: the volcanic planet Mustafar. Visual effects supervisors John Knoll and Roger Guyett worked with the ILM model shop, led by Brian Gernand, to film the miniature. The shoot incorporated the food-processing element methycel for lava.