James Cl yne
The supervising art director talks The Force Awakens
You began working on The Force Awakens in preproduction. What work did you do?
JJ Abrams wanted to do as much practically as possible. But digital is very important. It’s the glue that keeps it all together. I work in 2D and in 3D. In 3D I’m able to give an object to a digital effects house – that is us, ILM – and to a practical house. For example, there’s a console in The Force Awakens that looks like an outdoor barbecue – Han Solo has to punch a number on it. I built that in 2D and 3D. The 3D outdoor barbecue object went to the art department and it was built as a physical object. Using 3D allows us to have more influence. We can hand it over and see it through.
What else did you design for The Force Awakens?
I worked on the First Order – the Star Destroyer, Starkiller Base, the troop transport. From the macro Starkiller Base, to what does a switch and button look like on a console. Star Wars always relates back to World War II or Vietnam. So I made a PT boat and put spaceship parts on it. That went to ILM to start building as a 3D digital asset, and to the art department in London who built a full-size model of half the ship. Having the ability to develop that idea in 3D made the process much easier. But the idea, the spark, came from an old idea, from the 1940s.
What tools do you use?
Photoshop, Modo, Poser and sometimes SketchUp.
What was it like swapping 16 years of freelance for a staff job at ILM?
We’re all vagabonds and a lot of us like it that way. So to work for a corporation was a little scary at first. But it’s wonderful. The creative collaborative process hasn’t changed a bit. And San Francisco. The Presidio. The kids love it. My wife loves it. I’m happy up here.