Expanding the Design of The Clone Wars

StarWars.com Team | July 24, 2009

Over the scope of 22 episodes plus a feature film, The Clone Wars series has visually expanded the scope of the Star Wars galaxy immensely. We’ve gone to about 20 planets in the whirlwind that was the first season, and met a variety of alien cultures and creatures. Season two promises to be even richer, and Comic-Con International hosted some of the key members of the artistic team that help put that together at a panel early on Star Wars Day. On hand were Dave Filoni, Supervising Director; Joel Aron, CG Supervisor; Kilian Plunkett, Lead Designer; Danny Keller, Story Artist and Animation Consultant; and moderating the panel was StarWars.com’s own Pablo Hidalgo

“The goal was to create 22 minutes of the best movie to you each and every week,” said Filoni, describing how creator George Lucas kept pushing the envelope on the scope of the story. “If there are 10 clones on the screen, he wants 20. We put 20, he wants 100. Once we get around 100, he wants a thousand. It’s a goal that you simply don’t see every week on an animated series.”

Filoni contrasted the leaps and bounds made by the production team. When the feature film and season one began, Lucasfilm Animation was still being constructed from the ground up. “One simple way to illustrate it very easily, we had Plo Koon — a new character we had built for that. We had three clones that we redressed with different formats. That was largely all we had to build for that episode. No, for the season finale, we had new models of Cad Bane, Aurra Sing, Robonino, a modified pirate for a bounty hunter, a whole bunch of new Senators and background characters. So, just as far as character models, we’ve multiplied what we’re capable of.”

Pablo chimed in – “With that said, is there any temptation to revisit any of the designs done for season one?”

“It’s unavoidable,” said Filoni. “Just because we built Anakin Skywalker, he’s was the first model we built, so he’s needed some of the heaviest redesign that we’ve had to do. The Anakin you see now in Clone Wars, even though he looks relatively the same, is not the same model we used in the movie. In fact, he’s substantially better than the one. We redid the rigs, we redid some of the surface textures.”


To show an example of how confidence in execution has changed the approach of designing the characters, Kilian showed an image of the original concept maquette of Anakin Skywalker next to the concept maquette for Bail Organa. Whereas the original explorations of Anakin were hard and geometric, Organa was a much more subtle yet still stylized design.

The experience the team has garnered over the course of season one has also effected the writing of the series to a large extent. The team laughed about how new capabilities let them come up with better designs, and perhaps avoiding the creation of some that wouldn’t look quite right. Throwing up a sketch of Ahsoka from well before the series, her outfit looks decidedly different from her clothing in the show. “We originally gave Ahsoka a schoolgirl skirt that expanded out when she spun around. Turns out that was really expensive” Filoni joked.


Joel then went on to show how the art style of Clone Wars influences details and subtle as even the snow or the water. Passing through some videos, he describes the process of creating the flamethrowers that will be used in season two. Revealing the process he used, he actually created models for each frame of the flame itself, then sped the animation up quickly – and this process gives the fire a definite ‘Clone Wars’ effect, making it stylish and artistic to match the show. “It’s been a great learning experience,” he goes on to say, “Since I came over to animation from ILM (Industral Light and Magic) I was trying to break myself away from the photo-realistic style I have always gone for.” By opting for a stylistic choice and approach, the production team achieves an economical solution far less taxing that expensive computer physics simulation ordinarily employed for such effects.

As the panel ended, hints of the story of season two began to drop. In response to a question about Season Two, Filoni began to wax philosophical: “With the Jedi, when it seems like they are winning, they are really losing. It only seems like they are winning. They are a tool of Palpatine and the Clone War. They should not be fighting the war, and they don’t understand it. They believe if they fight the war and end it quickly, they can put it behind them. Obi thinks that, Yoda thinks that.(…) There are a lot of things and themes going on that really make the story very deep.”

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