Transcript: Lucasfilm Comic-Con Panel

Pablo Hidalgo | July 25, 2008

Steve Sansweet, Head of Fan Relations: This has been an incredibly ambitious three to four years. Setting up a new animation division in two countries, staffing it with incredibly talented people, and then producing something that is of such high qualities. There so were many stories to tell and areas to explore in this period that we call Clone Wars. The best way to do that was to use classic Star Wars storytelling in a new medium for us.

It’s my extreme pleasure to introduce you to four people who have been putting everything they have into the Clone Wars series and movie. Please give a warm welcome to Supervising Director Dave Filoni, Producer Catherine Winder, Story Editor and Writer Henry Gilroy, and Editor Jason Tucker.

Our panelists have worked directly with George Lucas to develop The Clone Wars. How did they turn one of the world’s most recognizable franchises into the world of animation? That’s what we’re going to try to find out today.

Catherine, you actually started about four years ago. It was your job to hire the team and set up the running of The Clone Wars operation. How did you go about doing something like that with a property which has such high expectations like Star Wars?

Catherine Winder, Producer: There are a lot of things to juggle for a project like this. I felt such responsibility. To start I needed to get into George’s head and understand what exactly it was he wanted us to produce. That was kind of tough in the beginning because I didn’t have much access to him. He was really busy finishing off Revenge of the Sith, but I got bits and pieces of information. The bottom line was George said he wanted us to produce something that would blow everybody away, something that nobody had ever seen before on the television screen, and ultimately what we turned into animation for the movie screen. Something that was really unique. And that’s no easy task. The first thing to do was to find the creative team that could pull that off. I spent a  lot of time searching for the right people, and was really fortunate to come up with Dave and Henry and Jason. Once we all started working together, I really felt like we were going to do something special.

Sansweet: I promised Dave that I would never mention again that he actually hand-crafted a Plo Koon costume and dressed up for the opening of Episode III. So, I won’t.

Dave Filoni, Director: Too late. Wake up, Steve!

Sansweet: You’ve been a Star Wars fan for a while, and so are a lot of people working on Clone Wars. What’s the biggest difference between being a fan and being an integral part of creating the next chapter of the Star Wars saga?

Filoni: There’s really not much difference, to be very honest with you. There’s a sense of immense responsibility coming from sitting in the audience to sitting up here. I felt it was really important that the whole crew who was going to work on Clone Wars felt the same way I did, which is we grew up on Star Wars and we really believed in it. It was something that inspired me creatively, and it’s something that inspired many generations. I think that’s important. I respect everybody out there and their opinions. Everybody comes up to me to talk about Star Wars, and I listen because I want to make sure when we do this, that we do it right and this will be the Star Wars that we all love.

 Sansweet: Are you implying that fans have different opinions about Star Wars?

Filoni: People like different movies. Episodes I through VI, each one is very unique and different, and you can almost tell a lot about a person by which movie they like.

Sansweet: Do you actually talk about Star Wars at work? (laughter) You know what I mean.

Filoni: Steve, we work on Star Wars. We tend to talk about it at work.

Sansweet: I mean about the deeper philosophical meanings, and this species versus that, and the planets…

Filoni: Yes, that comes up. The most recently the big argument was can a lightsaber cut Superman? That goes on for month. That’s never been resolved. At Lucasfilm we’ve given a tremendous amount of thought. (laughter) The answer revolves around whether the lightsaber has a kryptonite crystal in it. Or whether or not Superman is close to a yellow sun or not. Steward Lee can fill you in on that.

Sansweet: That gives you some idea of the depth of fandom that we have working on Star Wars. So Star Wars really is in good hands. Henry, you have a background of writing Star Wars before. Tell a little of what you’ve done and how that relates to what you’re doing now.

Henry Gilroy, Story Editor/Writer: I worked on the adapatations for Episode I and Episode II. I worked on several Star Wars Tales stories, adventures, a couple of one-shots featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi. I think that living in the Star Wars world, or at least writing in it, really gives you a sense of it. If you’re in that world all the time, it starts to feel like home, and it’s’ really easy to write about home when you’re familiar with the world and the universe.

Sansweet: Now you were hired before ever meeting George Lucas. So what was it like at your first ever in-person meeting with George when you and Dave and Catherine began hashing out what the series would be.

Gilroy: I was really nervous, obviously. I was ecstatic, because I was given the opportunity to contribute to the Star Wars saga, but by the same token — as Dave was saying — we really took on this great responsibility. I think my nervousness was partially about meeting George, but I also wanted to collaborate with George and Dave and Catherine and make something that would stand up to what had come before. The bar had been set so high.

As far as us collaborating, Dave and I used meet at this little broken down diner –

Filoni: Right, across from a Toys-R-Us, so we would come up with plot points and ideas for Star Wars to pitch to George Lucas, then would walk across to Toys-R-Us to go “research” what was hot or not in the Star Wars universe that week, or if anything special had come out. Then we’d go back to work at the little restaurant.

Gilroy: We used to be a race into store, because there might be only one figure that we’d both want. Luckily, I was a little faster than the director.

Sansweet: Jason, you’re stepping in as editor. It’s no secret that George’s favorite thing in making a movie, he has said time and time again, he has said, “yeah, the writing has to be done and we have to capture all this footage, but what really makes the movie and what I really love to do the most is editing.” So what’s it  like to edit a move with and for George Lucas?

Jason Tucker, Editor: First I was very nervous because of that, but it was a blend of excitement, just like Henry was saying. Basically when I first met George, he said he had a lot of respect for editors, and that put me at ease. He said that he had a lot of respect for editorial as a craft and an artform. It really shows in the way that he works, becuase there is a purposefulness in the way that he approaches editing. Almost like a tradition that dates back all the way to the birth of film. There’s a part of him that’s really genuinely open to new ideas and it’s really genuinely open to new ideas, and it’s pretty amazing to watch and be a part of. At the end of the day, what I’ve learned the most from him is clarity. To make it clear. To make the story as clear as possible.

Sansweet: George is famous for a couple of words in directing a film with live actors, and that’s “faster, more intense.” How do you carry that out in animation?

Tucker: George will say, “I want to speed that 200 percent, which is 48 frames per second,” and I’ll find that it works much better –

Filoni: We have presets in the Avid. He says blow it up 20 percent, reframe it here, center it here; George has a lot of same tendencies, so Jason just made a bank of “George Notes” that we can just dump it on shots every week.

Tucker: I pre-empt it now. I have several buttons that say 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent…

Sansweet: Catherine, initially when you were hired, what was the expectations for George’s direct participation in Clone Wars, and how and why did that change?

Winder: Intially, I was told no one was quite clear how involved George was going to be. We might see him once a year, once a month, we’d find out as we went along. As we started developing the project and he started seeing the material, he became more and more excited by what we were doing and started coming around a lot, because he was having lots and lots of fun with us. One of the eureka moment was that we did a short little test where we lit Yoda with our new painterly style, and he just walked across this one spot, and George looked it and he went crazy. He was so excited to see what we were doing, it was beginning to achieve that unique look that he was hoping for us to come up with.

Gilroy: Do you remember what he said?

Winder: Yes. You say it though.

Gilroy: It’s a really atmospheric shot, where Yoda is walking across the Chancellor Palpatine’s office from the shadows into light. And [George] stopped the frame and said, “We’re not making television, we’re making cinema.” That kind of pushed to make to really make something beyond your typical animated show and really stay true to Star Wars.

Tucker: It’s really a mini-feature every week.

Winder: Absolutely. We really are making these mini-events. We refine it, we change it, we improve it. We spend hours and hours with Dave and George and Jason in editorial making it way more exciting and as cinematic as possible.

Sansweet: I’m still trying to get my head around that. We’re going to be seeing basically a mini-Star Wars movie every week. For the first season, 22 episodes. That’s pretty darn exciting.

Winder: It really is. I plan on breaking out the popcorn with my family every Friday and watch each one of these, because they are like special family movie

Sansweet: Dave, you get to work for the man. The creator. Little be it for me to use Star Wars cliche, but it sort of is like the Padawan-Master relationship. What is it like to work under George? What do you get from that?

Filoni: It’s really intense. It’s really difficult. I answer to George Lucas. He’s the guy that works on the cut that I have to present every week with my guys. He made THX and American Graffiti. It’s not a board of people who aren’t familiar with what cinema is. He’s made some of the most famous films in history. It’s a privilege to be able to present him with footage, and it’s also nerve-wracking every week. We don’t know how its going to go, and what mood he’s in. He has different moods like everybody. He’s been a really good mentor, and we’re really fortunate that he’s now done with the six movies, and I think he was ready to take a group of people and teach them what he likes about filmmaking and how he likes to do it. I think he’s at that point now where he’s ready to pass on what he has learned much like the philosophy he talks about in his movies. We see that going on in our animation studios.

One of the first projects he made at USC was an animated film. His love of animation goes way back, and now he’s finally fulfilling a dream by having an animation studio. My hope is that this project will be  the first of many coming out of Lucasfilm Animation not just from this group but future groups of talented people as well.

Sansweet: It’s nice to talk about this stuff, but we’re in the visual arts business, so how about we take a little break and show something to illustrate all your words. For the first time anywhere, we’ve got a clip to show you from Star Wars: The Clone Wars the movie. I’m going to ask Dave if he can set this up, what we’re going to see. 

Filoni: Which one are we showing? (laughter)

Sansweet: …. crystal planet…

 Filoni: Oh, on Christophsis. Yeah, okay.  Yeah, this is a big battle in the beginning of The Clone Wars with Obi-Wan and Anakin stranded in the Outer Rim. I know you guys want to see this footage, so I’ll just stop talking.

Sansweet: Let’s take a look.

(Clip: Obi-Wan and Anakin lead their clone forces against Separatist droids on the crystal planet Christophsis; See the clip here.)

Sansweet: How and why was the decision made to go from a weekly TV series and kick it off as a full-fledged animated feature, which would then be followed by the weekly series.

Winder: That’s a good question. When we got material back early on from our studios and started reviewing it with George, we put it up on the big screen, so we could get a real sense of what we were dealing with. George got so excited about what he was seeing. He said to Dave and I, you guys need to figure how to put together a plan and produce a movie so we can kick off a series. He wanted you guys, the fans, to see it this way on the big screen.

Sansweet: So Dave, how did you go about doing that? You didn’t just take a couple of episodes and sew them together. What went into putting a few episodes into a movie?

Filoni: Well, it took a lot of effort. We didn’t want to present it as a bunch of broken pieces. We wanted to have an overall complete story. Luckily the first arc we were working on worked out well to be turned into a movie. Luckily, having Ahsoka as a new character was going to work well as a plot of the movie to introduce her. A lot of fans were surprised that Anakin had a Padawan, and we had to find out a way to introduce her and bring her into the story and show their relationship, and the film does that rather well.

Sansweet: How does a continuing weekly series differ from a movie?

Filoni: In the series we’re able to tackle a whole bunch of different issues and scenarios. That’s really exciting. The movie is one big complete idea: introducing a new character. In the series, we had a real opportunity to do really unique things with Star Wars. We can deal with just the ground troops on the front line with the clones. We can take obscure characters out the backgrounds of scenes, like Kit Fisto or Luminara or Plo Koon, and say what were they like? What did they sound like? How did they interact with the troops?

We tell a broad spectrum of stories. What’s Padme doing in the Senate and dealing with Palpatine all the time? There’s a whole bunch of areas that Henry can elaborate more on.

Gilroy: Besides telling war stories, George made it clear he wanted to use Clone Wars as a forum to tell various kinds of stories. So we tell mysteries and romances and horror and there’s a comedy or two in there too.

Sansweet: Jason, putting together the movie, how similar is it to a live action Star Wars movie?

Tucker: It indeed follows the same style. There’s the signature Star Wars wipes that we’re all familiar and the intercutting between different storylines is definitely there, and of course the “faster and more intense” that you mentioned earlier.

Sansweet: Henry, I’m interested in these story sessions that you and Dave engaged in in the beginning. How far out did you go in conceptualizing ideas? Did you feel any restraints in the beginning? What kind of things did you come up in terms of general storylines?

Gilroy: I always try to be inspired by the same things that inspire George. I think of Star Wars as this great big stew of awesome cinema. The genesis comes from the Flash Gordon serials of the ’30s, but he also threw in the westerns of the ’40s along with the Warner Bros. cartoons of the ’40s, and then there are samurai films of the ’50s there, along with the war epics of the ’60s. So you put all that together with a fairy tale theme that anyone can relate to, and that’s a recipe of how you might tell a Star Wars story.

Filoni: George used to give us a movie to watch every week. He would give us the Battle of the Bulge and go watch this, and up on the screen we would see that Ken Annakin directed it. We’d think, Anakin? And then in the middle of the movie, a character says, “I have a bad feeling about this.” Each week he’d give us something, and it’d have a little bit of it. And it must have been movies that he watched and grew up liking or was inspired by. Then we’d ask, George, is Anakin named after Ken Annakin? “No, no, no. That has nothing to do with it.” But when Bronson says “I have a bad feeling about this…” “No that’s a complete coincidence.” (laughter). It was really interesting and a good education. That’s another thing I learned about Star Wars. It’s really rooted in a lot of cinema that George has seen growing up and things he liked.

Like all of you, when you make your stories and are inspired, you draw from what you know. But ask yourself this, because Henry and I struggled at first. Okay, you’re going to do a Star Wars story. What are you going to do it about? Not only that, but you’re going to start telling the story of the Clone Wars. What’s the first story you’re going to tell? By the way, you’re going to show that story to George Lucas, and hope he says that’s a good idea, and worth investing in telling the story. It was really challenging. It’s really hard to come up with those ideas. After a while, we got used to it, but man, Henry and I used to argue about just what were going to bring to him to show.

Gilroy:  Very rarely would George just shoot us down. Most of the time, he’d encourage us to make it bigger, or more ambitious in scope. “That’s story too small. I want to go to five planets and not three.”

Winder: That would give me a big headache.

Filoni: Because she controlled the budget.

Gilroy: George would say “don’t listen to Catherine. Don’t listen to Catherine. Ignore her!”

Winder: I was just trying to get it done!

Sansweet: So you guys are pretty familiar with the comics and the novels. What happens when you present an expanded universe character who’s never really had much of a role in Star Wars? How did you come up with the idea of using Asajj Ventress as a major villain?

Gilroy: George is a fan of the comics. He would look through the comics and say, “wow, this is a really interesting character, visually. Let’s see that character.” There’s a few that I think the fans of the comics are going to love to watch the series. You’re going to see some of your favorite characters.

Filoni: We have to bring some of it in front of him too. We would work with a certain idea, and go onto Wookieepedia and print out all the pages and say, are you aware of all this material out there, and See what he wasn’t aware of and wasn’t aware of, and take what we wanted to do and try to do a version of something to keep it all together, because Star Wars has expanded so far. Every now and then you run into a Boba Fett scenario, where we didn’t know he was a clone, and the Jaster Mereel, and now he’s not, and now he’s a clone. And then we call Leland Chee and it’s his problem.

Gilroy: Leland Chee is a continuity editor who is a great big help from Lucasfilm.

Filoni: A continuity expert. The Holocron.

Sansweet: Henry, how does your background in writing for animation in the past combined with your experience in writing Star Wars comics, how did that help you or hinder you?

Gilroy: I think that the experiences I had in animation, it all led up to this. I think every writing job I’ve ever had. I had worked on action shows like Batman and Justice League, and I worked on Bionicle for Miramax, which is kind of like epic fantasy. I worked on Lilo and Stitch which is character development and comedy. Star Wars has all of those elements. Every tool I had picked up in the past, I had was able to bring to Star Wars.

Sansweet: I think it’s time to take another little break. You guys have been talking for a while. You might get a little hoarse. How about we show a scene from the series? (Audience cheer) You want to set it up for us? How far into the series is this?

Filoni: This is kind of in the first quarter of the episodes. I thought it’d be neat to break out for you guys something totally different. I know you’ve seen a lot of things on the movie. The fact is we have a lot of new characters. This is the entire act one of an episode that involves Luminara and I thought it’d be cool for you guys to check out.

Sansweet: And it’s called “Cloak of Darkness”. Let’s take a look.

(Clip from television episode, featuring Luminara Unduli and Ahsoka Tano handing over a captive Nute Gunray to Captain Argyus and his Senate Commandos. The Jedi cruiser they are on is suddenly attacked by Separatist vessels, including Separatist boarding craft that bring Asajj Ventress aboard).

Sansweet: I guess I’m finally going to have to break down and buy a big screen HD TV. What has been your biggest satisfaction in the last three years working on the Clone Wars?

Tucker: Collaboration. This has been the biggest satisfaction. Watching Dave work and collaborating with him has been fantastic over the last three years.

Gilroy: Yeah, same thing. Teaming up with Dave and Jason and George. Working with Catherine. I think we’ve produced something that is really extraordinary. And just… it’s Star Wars. Adding to the Star Wars saga has been a dream and pleasure. The whole crew really loves Star Wars, and it shows. You can see from what’s on the screen, they really bust their tails to get there.

Winder: Having had the opportunity to take this important, incredible franchise into animation and see what this passionate team at Lucasfilm has done. Everybody has worked so hard, and to see it from basically a blank piece of paper to what you guys are going to see on the screen makes me really proud and honored to have been a part of this.

Filoni: I think it’s just keeping Star Wars alive. I think after Revenge of the Sith, I didn’t know what the future of Star Wars was. After watching Revenge of the Sith I didnt know what the future of Star Wars was. I knew I would always like it and watch the movies over and over again, but to be part of something where we’re actually forwarding Star Wars, and you’re going to have episodes like that every week coming out. That’s pretty exciting, and pretty proud of that and the crew that makes of it. George is talking about the live action series that he wants to do, and that, from what I’ve heard, looks and sounds awesome, so you guys are going to get that in the future. The overall message is that beyond what people thought in 2005, Star Wars is alive and well. Because of the dedication of the fans you see here at Comic-Con every year, it’s the number one thing every time. It’s really humbling. I appreciate that. I’m glad we can all give something back.

Sansweet: And I can’t think of Star Wars being in better hands than the crew you see here, the animation people here, and in Singapore and at Big Rock Ranch in Marin County. Let’s give a big hand for our panelists Dave Filoni, Catherine Winder, Henry Gilroy and Jason Tucker. And we will see all of you in line on August 15th. And then on television, every week in the Fall as the Clone Wars comes to Cartoon Network and TNT. We want to thank you all for all of your support over all of these years. Enjoy Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Thank you very much.

Tags: ,

Share This: