May the Fourth Be with You: Visual Effects of Star Wars

May the Fourth Be with You: Visual Effects of Star Wars
May the Fourth Be with You: Visual Effects of Star Wars
Posted at 6:45 PM, May 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-05 07:59:09-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - In the second “May The Fourth Be With You” series, we're getting a sneak peak into the making of the Star Wars movies spectacular visual effects. Transforming George Lucas' vision onto the screen is no easy feat.

In film, visual effects play tricks on our minds. In Star Wars epic battles, explosions in space, and one of a kind characters unlike anything seen before need a little help coming to life. Enter a visual effects team.

Meet Jonathan Stone, the head of visual effects at The Florida State University College of Motion Pictures Arts. He has worked on visual effects for some big time movies including Hugo, Shutter Island, and The Aviator.

He’s also teaching the next generation of effects artists at FSU how to create a variety of effects using computer software systems.

Jonathan Stone says, "You can think of anything and we're going to be able to create it. Primarily because the technology is just supporting about anything. From CGI water, to skin, to hair, photo realistic humans."

Stone says, visual effects are created in post-production when something just can't be filmed in live action.

He says, "The visual effects comes in when we want to take that image that was captured onset into the computer and manipulate it, or alter it in some way."

Stone says, to accomplish these surreal effects, he uses a myriad of methods from projection, to green-screens, and miniatures.

Stone says, "When you deal with miniatures, a lot of it has to do with the perspective of the way that you're shooting it and then how ultimately the elements are lite by real lighting." On any given special effects scene, Stone combines live action footage, 3D images, still and green-screen images just to produce one finished shot.

Stone says, "This is one particular element that was filmed. We're going to bring this element into the compositing software, along with the 3D element, which is the background and that matte painting. So, we created all this is the computer."

He says, complex movie scenes take thousands of different elements combined to create one visual effect. Stone estimates almost every scene in the latest Star Wars movies has some form of visual effects trickery.

George Lucas envisioned an entire universe full of weird creatures that didn't exist. When Lucas was creating the original Star Wars movies, he couldn't use technology to make the characters he imagined... or have hunk of junk spaceships leaping through hyperspace.

Nowadays, green screens can help make this happen by adding a little movie magic to the screen. So how did Lucas do it?

Movie magic is what George Lucas envisioned for the Star Wars films. In 1977, there was no such thing as computer generated imagery. Many of the visual effects involved making puppets and detailed miniature props.

Lucas and his team constructed robots and spaceships models from scratch.

Chad Sullivan, a local Mandalorian Merc, says, "The Death Star itself has this iconic trench around it. That was a bunch of model battleships that they had bought piles of them, took them all apart, and just started building the Death Star from the top and then they started at the bottom. The plan was just to meet in the middle and they ran out of parts."

Sullivan says, they just ran with it and that's how the infamous trench was accidentally created.

Even characters in the original movies, Yoda and Jabba the Hut, were made by hand and required a team to manipulate them.

Emma Jonas, a Tallahassee Nerds & Geeks Club member, says, "To move Jabba, I think they had like 3 puppeteers. From the head, torso, and to the tail, they had to have 3 people moving him. It's all puppet work. You have to admire that much dedication."

You could say Lucas was dedicated. He used a machine called an optical printer, which has a camera on one end and a projector on the other. He created duplicate images that he could then change the size, orientation, or speed of the final image.

Stone says, "Most of the work was done optically, or using an optical printing process, where they would film multiple different elements and then be able to project it back."

In other words, Lucas and his team filmed several different images, and used multiple projectors to create the image Lucas envisioned.

Stone says, "Star Wars was sort of the game changer when it comes to visual effects and how visual effect started to become more prevalent in films moving forward." 

To see the third “May The Fourth Be With You” series talking about the powerful woman of Star Wars click here