The Force Is Alive and An­i­mated

The team be­hind Dis­ney-lu­cas­film’s Star Wars Re­sis­tance dis­cuss the mak­ing of the stun­ning new show. By Ramin Za­hed

Animation Magazine - - Front Page - By Ramin Za­hed

The team be­hind Dis­ney-lu­cas­film’s Star Wars Re­sis­tance dis­cuss the mak­ing of the stun­ning new show.

T his year, Christ­mas comes early for Star Wars fans as the fan­tas­tic-look­ing new an­i­mated se­ries Star Wars Re­sis­tance de­buts in Oc­to­ber on Dis­ney Chan­nel and Dis­neYNOW (with sub­se­quent air­ings on Dis­ney XD). The much-an­tic­i­pated show is the brain­child of fran­chise master Dave Filoni ( Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels), who wanted to ap­proach the ma­te­rial with a lighter touch than some of the previous an­i­mated ven­tures.

“The idea for Star Wars: Re­sis­tance came out of my in­ter­est in World War II air­craft and fighter pi­lots,” Filoni noted in a state­ment ear­lier on. “My grand­fa­ther was a pilot and my un­cle flew and re­stored planes, so that’s been a big in­flu­ence on me. There’s a long his­tory of high-speed rac­ing in Star Wars, and I think we’ve cap­tured that sense of ex­cite­ment in an an­ime-in­spired style, which is some­thing the en­tire team has been want­ing to do for a long time.”

To help re­al­ize his vi­sion, Filoni put to­gether a dream team of Star Wars an­i­ma­tion vet­er­ans. On board for the new ven­ture are exec pro­duc­ers Athena Por­tillo ( Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels), Justin Ridge ( The Clone Wars, Rebels) and Bran­don Au­man ( Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles), and art di­rec­tor Amy Beth Chris­ten­son ( The Clone Wars, Rebels).

The new se­ries cen­ters on the ad­ven­tures of an ea­ger young pilot named Kazudo Xiono (voiced by Christo­pher Sean) who is picked by Last Jedi fa­vorite Poe Dameron (Os­car Isaac) to be a secret spy for the Re­sis­tance. The eclec­tic voice cast in­cludes Suzie Mc­grath ( East­end­ers) as Tam Ryvora, Scott Lawrence ( Le­gion) as Jarek Yea­ger, Myrna Ve­lasco ( Elena of Avalor) as Torra Doza, Josh Brener ( Sil­i­con Val­ley) as Neeku Vozo, Don­ald Fai­son ( Scrubs) as Hype Fa­zon, Jim Rash ( Com­mu­nity) and Bobby Moyni­han ( Duck­tales) as Flix and Orka, Gwen­do­line Christie ( Game of Thrones) as Cap­tain Phasma, and Rachel Butera as Gen­eral Leia Or­gana.

As exec pro­ducer Athena Por­tillo men­tions in a re­cent phone in­ter­view, Filoni has al­ways wanted to put the bound­aries of what they could do with this prop­erty, both in terms of con­tent and vi­su­als. “When I started work­ing on the show two years ago, one of the hard­est things was keep­ing my mouth shut, be­cause I wanted to tell ev­ery­one about it,” she ad­mits. “It is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the previous show be­cause of the way it looks. It’s a 3D show with a 2D cel-shaded look.”

Achiev­ing a 2D Look in CG

The smooth 2D look of the show was achieved thanks to the ef­forts of Lu­cas­film’s part­ners: Taipei-based CGCG and Ja­pan’s cut­ting-edge stu­dio Poly­gon Pic­tures, which is best known for its amaz­ing work on Knights of Si­do­nia and the re­cent an­i­mated Godzilla movies, as well as The Clone Wars. “We knew that was some­thing they could do for us,” says Por­tillo. “That is their forte and they can push the bound­aries of the an­i­ma­tion in terms of build­ing the as­sets and the right shaders. I still get but­ter­flies when I see the show trailer, be­cause we all think it looks beau­ti­ful.”

Por­tillo points out that the dig­i­tal as­sets for the show looked so good that they would test them against the orig­i­nal de­signs. “We liked putting the de­signs and the as­sets next to each other and test peo­ple to see if they could tell which was which, and in most cases, they couldn’t,” she notes. “Our di­rec­tor Amy Beth Chris­ten­son was one of the de­sign­ers on Rebels, and she led the an­ime-in­flu­enced line-draw­ing con­cept de­signs. Thanks to the work of our an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor Keith Kel­logg , the char­ac­ters have more fluid body rigs, which al­low for more squash and stretch and the in­clu­sion of dif­fer­ent mouth shapes that al­low more ex­pres­sive comedic an­i­ma­tion.”

She also praises the amaz­ing work of the show’s light­ing su­per­vi­sor Joel Aron ( Rebels, The Clone Wars). “He is able to make the shots look very cin­e­matic and ex­pen­sive. He’ll add smoke trails, laser blasts, wa­ter bub­bles, any­thing we wanted to the scenes, and still de­liver within the pa­ram­e­ters of the time and bud­get.”

To cre­ate the show’s finely-tuned 2D look, the an­i­ma­tors use Toon Boom Sto­ry­board Pro for the an­i­mat­ics and rely on Maya and Nuke for an­i­ma­tion, the same tools that were used on Rebels. They also uti­lize ZVIZ, Lu­cas­film’s pro­pri­etary tool cre­ated for pre­vis and vi­su­al­iza­tion of CG images.

Por­tillo says one of the big­gest chal­lenges of the new project was com­ing up with sto­ries that would make ev­ery­one happy. “We of­ten ask our­selves, ‘OK, what will the fan base like, and what would the show’s new au­di­ence like?’ and ‘Can they walk right into the show and get sucked in?’ Of course, we have both au­di­ences in mind. The of­fi­cial age range is six to 12, but we’re also cre­at­ing this for view­ers who are six to 70, which in­cludes me as well,” says Por­tillo, who re­calls see­ing orig­i­nal Star Wars tril­ogy in

the­aters. “With this show, we have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the First Or­der, the ge­n­e­sis of the Re­sis­tance and find out more about Poe and his re­la­tion­ship with Gen­eral Leia. There was such a huge break be­tween the movies, and now we get to see how they all get there.”

Un­ex­plored His­tory

Exec pro­ducer Justin Ridge, who also worked with Filoni on Avatar: The Last Air­ben­der, The Clone Wars and Rebels, says the show cre­ator was keen on ex­plor­ing the time pe­riod be­fore The Force Awak­ens. “At the same time, we al­ways try to push the bound­aries of what we can do. This was a great op­por­tu­nity to work in a style that we hadn’t done be­fore. We are fans of an­ime, and we also wanted this new tone. The new era has a light-hearted feel through­out, and we felt a more 2D, hand-crafted feel would serve it much bet­ter than CG.”

Ridge says the show was heav­ily in­flu­enced by Hayao Miyazaki movies, as well as an­ime fa­vorites such as Robotech and Lupin the Third. “We had some time to for de­tailed R&D on the show, and to ex­plore how to achieve the look we were go­ing for, how do we keep the con­tour lines, how to get that hand-drawn look for the back­grounds.”

An­other key goal of the show was to strive for char­ac­ter di­ver­sity. “It was im­por­tant for us to have a cast of char­ac­ters that were very di­verse and came from dif­fer­ent walks of life,” says Ridge. “Our main char­ac­ter Kaz is a new­bie, but he’s very pas­sion­ate. He comes from a wealthy back­ground — his fa­ther is a Se­na­tor — in con­trast with Rey and Luke who come from hum­ble be­gin­nings. Kaz loves to live and to prove him­self so he can get out from un­der his fa­ther’s thumb. I think kids can re­late to that.”

Ridge also ad­mits that the rich­ness of the Star Wars uni­verse can be both a bless­ing and a curse. “There is a lot of back story that you can ex­plore, but what you’re do­ing has to fit with what has been done in the can­non. We are deal­ing with the First Or­der, and we’re not too fo­cused on the main char­ac­ters, but there is some over­lap. We do have Poe, Cap­tain Phasma and Gen­eral Leia as we did feel that it was re­ally im­por­tant for con­ti­nu­ity to have these char­ac­ters be fea­tured in the show.”

Over­all, Ridge says he is quite proud of this col­or­ful world that he and the rest of the team have cre­ated. “It’s re­ally stun­ning,” he notes. “We’ve cre­ated a show that looks like noth­ing I’ve seen be­fore. We’ve cre­ated this fam­ily of char­ac­ters that we love, and we hope they’ll res­onate with au­di­ences and fans as well.”

Lis­ten­ing to His In­ner Fan

Exec pro­ducer Bran­don Au­man re­calls get­ting a call in early 2016 about work­ing on the new show. “I am a huge Star Wars nerd and know way too much about the fran­chise, so when Lu­cas­film con­tacted me, I was very ex­cited,” he notes. “I know Filoni had this idea for the show sim­mer­ing for years. They had me come in with a soft pitch, but they had al­ready de­vel­oped the con­cept art. Then, we had this great brain­storm­ing ses­sion at Sky­walker Ranch, and it just all took off.”

Au­man says he im­me­di­ately fell in love with the char­ac­ters. “I re­ally think they are all good peo­ple,” he ex­plains. “Kaz is young and earnest and is a hero in the mak­ing, while Nikou has a huge heart and is kind. The char­ac­ters all fun and funny and you re­ally care about them on their jour­ney,” he says. “The se­ries is writ­ten with emo­tion and heart, but it also has lots of ac­tion ad­ven­ture and com­edy in the mix too. It’s treated no dif­fer­ently than the live-ac­tion movie. They are all part of the Star Wars gal­axy, and they have to live there, and there’s a lot of weight there.”

He says one of Filoni’s big goals was to cap­ture the spark of ev­ery­one’s first Star Wars ex­pe­ri­ence. “Early on, Dave told us, ‘Re­mem­ber the first time you saw Star Wars when you were a kid!’ He wanted us to bring back that same sense of fun and in­no­cence. He didn’t want to go dark, and wanted the show to be closer in tone to the orig­i­nal tril­ogy.”

Au­man says there was a lot of talk about Robotech as well. “We watched the be­gin­ning of Robotech in the room to get ev­ery­one on the same page. We were all nerd­ing out on that and all the things we loved in the ’80s. We wanted to bring in that sense of fun that is also seen in The Last Jedi. Solo was also an in­di­rect in­flu­ence.”

Hav­ing worked on sev­eral Marvel prop­er­ties and get­ting an Emmy nom for Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles, Au­man is no stranger to pas­sion­ate fan ex­pec­ta­tions. “I am a fan my­self, so I lis­ten to my in­ner fan,” he says. “But some­times you need to dis­miss those voices and try things that you wouldn’t nor­mally go for. It’s good to get out of your safety zone and grow. Work­ing with Dave, Justin and Athena and ev­ery­one else on the show has let us ex­plore new ter­ri­to­ries. It’s been a truly in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence.” ◆

Star Wars Re­sis­tance pre­mieres on Dis­ney Chan­nel, Dis­neynow and Dis­ney Chan­nel VOD with a spe­cial one-hour episode on Sun­day, Oct. 7 at 10 p.m. The show will then air reg­u­larly on Dis­ney XD.

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