Designing the Clone Wars

StarWars.com Team | July 25, 2008

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Starting early on Friday morning was the kick-off of Star Wars Day at Comic-Con International. Steve Sansweet introduced the key design staffers from Clone Wars:  Kilian Plunkett, known to many fans as a comic book artist; Darren Marshal, the maquette sculptor on the Clone Wars, who started his career at the Henson Creature Shop; Thang Le, a concept designer at Lucasfilm Animation; Russell Chong, who has worked on Batman The Animated Series, Spawn, and animated features, and as a designer on Battlestar Galactica; and Tim Brock, lead texture artist and painter on The Clone Wars.

“Everyday is different. The first thing I’ll do once getting a script is work on old fashioned paper and pencils. A lot of people work exclusively digital, I’m too old fashioned and poorly trained,” said Plunkett with a laugh.

“The first thing we realized was definitely to make things simpler. There was no way we were going to have high-high detailed realism on a show that would come out every week. We looked at what the 2-D team had done with the Clone Wars micro-series. The emphasis was more on texture, lighting and motion rather than degrees of complexity on the characters themselves,” Plunkett continued.

“Anakin was the more tricky one to nail down,” said Marshal, reviewing a number of his sculptures of Anakin. “You can see from this early sketches of Anakin and Ahsoka from Dave Filoni. Dave comes a 2-D animation background, so he has a really strong graphic style, so we took that and really pushed that element with this very early maquette. With Anakin, it’s very hard to do handsome heroes, because with villains, its easier to caricature their designs.”

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“We spent a lot of time on Ahsoka,” continued Marshal. ”She was originally called Ashla in Dave’s first original sketches. From there, I went into a maquette that looked a little too Area 51 classic alien style. We kept the large eyes, because it’s always nice to see large eyes on a cartoon girl character.”Thang Le described his work in developing backgrounds. “With pre-existing environments we try to stay pretty close in terms of scale and proportion. Where we do stylize is in the details. The live action environments. The Clone Wars environments are simplified. We’re about 80 percent of the detail [of the live action], relying on painterly brushstrokes for surface details.  We applied the same thought in designing vehicles as we did with vehicles.”

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“The vehicles stayed very much the same,” said Russel Chong. “The Clone Wars Y-wing was a really fun project, bringing it back fully faired. We back-engineered the Y-wing and turned it back into a bomber. I took the actual model of the Y-wing from the files at Lucasfilm, and I overlaid our new version. We revitalized the bubble turret that Colin Cantwell and Ralph McQuarrie had developed. All the body panels are very much the same as the original Y-wing. I did my best to give it the same styling and the same look as the original Y-wing.”

“Texture is the process color and texture to the 3-D model using 3-D paint programs and photoshop,” explained Tim Brock. “When we first started the project, Dave Filoni was pointing in the direction of Ralph McQuarrie, and we really wanted to pull from that 70s style of sci-fi illustration. We took one of Ralph’s paintings and projected it onto 3-D geometry. The eureka moment we had was when we took off specular highlights — the way light reflects off the surface on 3-D. By pulling it off completely, we were able to keep the integrity of the painted surface and have the characters really fit the painted background.”

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