ILM concept artist compares work on Star Wars films
What was your first job as a concept artist?
Right after I graduated, I worked for Walt Disney Imagineering. It was fun, but very realistic. One day of blue sky fun, five months of wheelchair access and sidewalk widths.
You worked on Star Wars: Episodes II and III, then went freelance for 10 years, but returned to ILM to work on The Force Awakens. How did work on the two films differ?
George Lucas was frustrated by his limitations on the early Star Wars and he pressed against that in the prequels. We pushed the boundaries with what was possible with digital and often broke them. JJ realised how the limitations of reality for Episode IV contributed to making such a pure movie. Because ILM was involved early on The Force Awakens, we were able to design with JJ, to get the most convincing and real looking stuff, even if it would be digital. That’s the secret sauce of ILM’s approach. The earlier the director can see things to a high degree of finish, the better for making decisions. For example, we’d show JJ what kind of shots he could get with a limited set build versus what he’d get with a larger set build. We spent many months with each vehicle and location exploring the limits of what a Star Wars look is.
Can you describe a Star Wars look?
I saw Episode IV when I was a child and it made such an impression. The hugeness of shapes. The colours. The first half of the movie is tan and brown. The second half with the Death Star is black and white. It was brilliant. Even a one-year-old could react to that. Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston were the essence of Star Wars really.