Report from Wonder-Con: Lucasfilm Presentation (Part 3)

Pablo Hidalgo | February 23, 2008

Steve Sansweet: On August 15th, Star Wars returns to the theaters in all new animated feature film, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to be followed this fall by a new weekly series of the same name airing on Cartoon Network and TNT. We’ll be announcing international dates for the movie and international partners for the series over the next couple of months. Star Wars: The Clone Wars has an entirely new look and feel and combines the broad scope of Star Wars and the saga with state-of-the-art computer-generated animation. Each week, viewers are going to see really a very exciting half-hour “mini-movie” created by the talented artists at Lucasfilm Animation. From what I’ve already seen, we are in for one heck of an exciting ride. But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Dave Filoni, Supervising Director for the Clone Wars project.

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Video Rolls: The Introduction to the Clone Wars video that can be seen here.

SS: And now it’s my extreme pleasure to introduce to you in person, the Clone Wars producer Catherine Winder, and the director — the world’s biggest Plo Koon fan — Dave Filoni.

Armored clone troopers — members of the 501st — march Filoni and Winder onto stage.

SS: Did you guys animate these?

Catherine Winder: Yes.

SS: They look pretty cool. Okay, Rex, Cody, thank you very much! Dismissed!

The clone troopers leave the stage.

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SS: You know with union wages what they are these days, we can’t afford to have them up here very long. But I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more clone costumes. This is very exciting. We’re getting very close. You’ve been working on this for, what seems like forever and a week I’m sure to you guys. What exactly are The Clone Wars?

CW: Well, The Clone Wars is an animated series which is based on the wars that took place between the live-action movies Episode II and Episode III. It’s going to be airing on the Cartoon Network and TNT in the fall of this year… finally! We’re really excited.

Dave Filoni: It’s a chance for us to explore a lot of things that George finally wanted to get around to. He’s not restricted to having to tell the complete cycle of six films that he really wanted to finish. Now, we’ve got the opportunity and he’s got the time, and it’s pretty exciting.

SS: We’re looking at some concept art and sculpts and… it’s like making a movie! Like making a Star Wars movie, and that’s in fact what it’s become. A Star Wars movie and a weekly Star Wars movie, so we’re all very excited by that. But, I sort of remember… didn’t we do this once before? Didn’t we do an animated Clone Wars series? What’s the difference?

CW: Well the Cartoon Network did produce a Clone Wars series but it wasn’t exactly the same. It was traditionally animated and it was small vignettes — two minutes, four minutes– that took moments during the Clone Wars and explored them. It was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.

SS: We really enjoyed it. How did that lead to what we have now?

DF: I think one thing you find is that Star Wars is hugely popular — you look out and see all the fans. One thing George was curious about was: what’s its viability across different markets? It’s a huge film series, but how would it be approached as an animated series? I think Genndy and his team really proved that fans are hungry for Star Wars in many different forms and many different ways. That got George excited after he saw the response from the fans.

SS: Of course, it’s a luxury having a 30-minute slot as opposed to a 3-minute slot. What can you do in that 30 minutes?

CW: You’ve got the ability to really tell full narrative stories, get to know characters, explore themes. It’s a fantastic venue for us to explore the Star Wars universe further.

SS: So each show is unique but some of them are part of a broader story arc?

CW: Yes. The episodes are all written and produced as stand-alones, however some of them are two-parters, some are three-parters, and have an overarching narrative. You can tune in on any episode and know what the story is.

SS: What exactly is the story of the movie and also of the series?

DF: Boy, I’d love to talk about that.

SS: We can at least say…

CW: He’s not allowed.

DF: They never let me talk about that stuff. What’s great is…. as a fan myself, we get to explore even outside the movies and the storyline in the film, a lot of the characters I know fans like, that were just in the background. Boy, see, then I want to name one, and then I give something away.

CW: You can name one–

DF: It’s a great chance to explore other characters and get into it. I think George mentioned Kit Fisto. I have a lot of friends [who are] huge Kit Fisto fans, so getting to put Kit Fisto into an entire episode is very exciting.

SS: So the movie itself is a self-contained story?

CW: Yes, it is a self-contained story, and we really can’t share the plot yet, but soon.

SS: Such teases.

DF: If I can say a small thing…

SS: That’s where we meet Ahsoka.

DF: Yeah, we meet Ahsoka, and it’s an important element to the entire arc of what’s going on in the Clone Wars. What happens in the film will set you up for a lot of things that will happen in the series. So once you watch this, you’ll see that the stage is set and you’ll have a new interesting thing to talk about.

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CW: We can talk about story development and how we came about the series. The thing about this show was we have written it for both the die-hard fan and the new fan. We worked really hard to make this for a broad audience. We have somebody in the audience who played a huge role in that. His name is Henry Gilroy. He was our story editor.

SS: Is Henry here? Henry, will you stand up?

CW: He did a fantastic job! It was a really… when I came on-board, for me, I… I love Star Wars, but Henry and Dave are walking encyclopedias. They are the true die-hard fan. It was a really interesting dynamic between the three of us.

DF: Yeah, it sure was. Because Henry and I can get together, and we start talking about a lot of things, and for Catherine, it would become a secret language! Because we’ll talk… one of concerns Henry and I had was with the existing material. So, I’d say, Henry, what about Sora Bulq? What are we going to do about that? Quinlan Vos? We’ve got these problems: the Dark Woman running around. We’d have a lot of things to talk about, and we’d look across the table, and CW’s like…. what are you guys talking about? I didn’t see that in the movie. So, we would run a lot of plotlines, and then we’d bounce them off Catherine, and ask, would you get that? Is that coming across? And she would say, no, that doesn’t come across at all. So it was a good way to kind of beat up ideas amongst the three of us, and then, really, you’d put it before George, and George comes down and says, “Guys? What are you doing? That’s not Star Wars,” or “That is Star Wars.” That was, in the end, the best education always was George. That was a critical part of the writing in the end.

SS: What about the look of Clone Wars. How did you get around to developing the look?

CW: Well, when I came onboard, I was charged by George and Gail Currey, our general manager, to find a team and a leader of a team that could create a vision and a look that had never been seen before on television, which was a huge challenge. I think we have been so fortunate. It’s been a lot of fun, and there couldn’t have been a better leader here than Dave Filoni and everybody at Lucasfilm that’s come up with this look. We’ve been lucky.

DF: When you look at Star Wars, you can start with Ralph McQuarrie, who designed the original look of Star Wars back in the ’70s, so that was going to be critical. And when you saw the Clone Wars cartoon Genndy did, they paid a lot of homage to Ralph McQuarrie also. You really got to stick with that art direction, and kind of move from there. We took Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston and what Doug Chiang was doing in the prequels, and we had to take this all and use it for the Republic and the Separatists. A key ingredient would be Darren Marshall who started to take drawings that Alex Woo and I were doing and really sculpt them in 3-D to get the maquettes. We could see how we would take things that Genndy and Paul Rudish had done and bring them into a 3-dimensional look. And Justin Leach, who has been at Lucasfilm Animation longer than I had, he projected a Ralph McQuarrie painting onto geometry, and he started to unlock how we were going to make the backgrounds look. As we took the backgrounds and developed that, and the characters, Andrew Harris, our CG supervisor, we would talk all the time about how we could make these Ralph McQuarrie paintings come to life in an animated series, and he really unlocked the key one day, of a stylistic thing the way he rendered it, and we were like, Wow. That’s really gonna work. You hope.

SS: After all the time, and then you look at it now, and you say, well of course!

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DF: Now it seems easy, but at the time, a lot of Animation– a lot of the gang is here today — they could tell you that you never really know. You come with a lot of theories about how it’s going to look when you render it. I’m sure it’s the same thing in ’77 when you get a script and read you’re going to have a Death Star, a bunch of X-wings and Y-wings attack it — they had no idea how they were going to do some of that stuff. For a TV series some of the things we had to pull off that George wants to see in that script, we just go, I don’t know how we’re going to do that. You do it anyway, and we try to find the best way, and so in that way the crew is challenged the same way they were.

SS: It’s pretty hard to tell George Lucas no.

CW: We don’t. We’re there to make him happy.

SS: So we have some of the folks here from Lucasfilm Animation.

CW: Yes. Can you guys stand up? We have the best team ever assembled for a show and they’re all over there. There’s a whole bunch of people.

SS: Thank you, all! That’s quite a team. So you’ve been working on this series for how long now?

CW: Well, I’ve been working on it for almost four years, but the team has been assembled and working for three years.

SS: Gee, it sounds like a normal Star Wars movie to me.

DF: Well, besides the thing we’ve put together as a film, we have a bunch of episodes as well. It’s actually several. That’s one thing fans need to realize that outside of this announced feature presentation, there’s going to be a Star Wars something on television every week for several weeks, so you’ll tune in every week and get these mini-movies. That’s extremely exciting. And also, for the Wonder-Con audience, there’s a lot of artists here, in Artists Alley. I think you guys should know that a lot of the guys and girls I have making the show, they’re just like you. They can concentrate on that as you strive to perfect your art. I’ve been sitting right where you are, now I’m sitting here, and I’m up on that screen, but there’s very little difference. You just have to work. You know, Kilian Plunkett’s here, and he’s been with me from the start, and he’s a big fan of Star Wars.

SS: Fans know Kilian, and fans know Henry from the comics. Great. Hey, can I ask you a personal question?

DF: What is about? My wife’s here. We’ll see if she lets me answer it.

SS: I couldn’t help but notice that on the drawings and the art that you really love the best, you have a rubber stamp that says “PLO KOOL.” I also know that you dressed up as Plo Koon and were in line for the opening of Episode III. So what is it with this obsession with Plo Koon?

DF: Well, you’ve gone and put that fact out there! Well, look. As I said, it’s not a joke. I make costumes. I go to Comic-Con. That’s what I did. When you’re in the industry, that’s what you do. Before this job, my buddy and I before Revenge of the Sith came out, let’s be Jedi this year. We’ve never done that. So he was going to be Kit Fisto, and I was going to be Plo Koon. I got a racing mask and I started sculpting this in my garage. We had tentacles hanging up. We got a lady we hired to make the robes. That was all happening with she [Catherine] phone called me for this job. I was like, yeah right. It’s sure to be a practical joke, and that’s story well known.

George has a “Fabuluso” stamp that he stamps all approved artwork with, so I figured I’d make mine “Plo Kool.” But now everything’s digital, to be honest, so I don’t get to stamp anymore.

SS: What has been George’s involvement in this? I think it turned out to be a lot more than he expected.

CW: When I originally came on, I was told that we may see him two or three times a year. We generally see him once a week. He has gotten extremely engaged over time as we got the show up and running. He’s of course the creator and the executive producer. He works with us on all key phases of the production. He developed it with us. He signed off on the look. And he’s very involved in all aspects of story.

DF: I’ve gotten a break lately, because he’s working on another movie. That Indiana Jones thing. That’s a relief for me. There’s a really good director on that one, but I hear he gets notes like I do. So that’s kind of a relief. Yeah, George is heavily involved. What was great for the team was that as we started out, George wasn’t sure what we were going to be able to do, but the gang has always been committed to making this as much like Star Wars as we possibly can. We didn’t care that it was on television. We didn’t care that we had limitations. We just said, let’s just go for it. So the more we did, the more he responded to it, and the more he challenged us. Every time he challenges, the crew just comes through, and it really gotten him involved.

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SS: It’s absolutely is an amazing crew, and they’ve turned out a product that I’m so excited for us all to see. And we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot from Dave and Catherine before the movie opens. We’ll be seeing a lot on StarWars.com, and we’re gonna drag them to a bunch of conventions too. I want to thank them very much. I want to thank everyone from Animation from coming here. But before we let you go, let’s take a look at this little trailer that we have.

Video rolls: Clone Wars Trailer (which can be seen here)

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