Fan Movie Winner Profile: Star Wars in a Notebook Team | August 6, 2009

As the winner for the Best Animated Movie presented by Lucasfilm and Atom at this year’s Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge at San Diego Comic-Con International, Star Wars in a Notebook captured the imagination of what Star Wars would look like recreated with paper cut-outs in a notebook. chats with Columbia-based filmmaker Oscar Fabián Triana Méndez.

What is your background in film? Did you make films as a youngster/teen?

I studied Graphic Design on the National University of Colombia, and last year I finished the new specialization in animation program at the same college. My first animated short-film, UnoCero (One-Zero) was made on 2003 while I was studying. It’s an animated film about a student who must choose his studies or the last minutes of a historic soccer game — our national team against Germany in the Italia ’90 World Cup.

Later, I was working for several years “pioneering” video game development here, and from the last year, I just came back to the storytelling and narrative side of animation. On the specialization program, I made a couple of short films and experiments, from stop-motion to rotoscopy, and a main project called ImaGeForce. It’s not finished yet but it touches a lot of points that I developed later in Star Wars in a Notebook like kids, memories and spaceships.

What prompted you to make a Star Wars fan film? How have George Lucas and his films influenced your work?

I have been following the fan films and the Atom site for a really long time — way back to high school. For years I wanted to enter the Fan Movie Challenge but I never had enough time to make a film until this year. I have always loved all things about heroes, robots, outer space, as any kid, and years later in college. Star Wars was, and is, the obligated reference as a key piece on the audiovisual medium.

My first contact with the films was halfway through middle school, a couple of years before Episode I. When I saw the original movies on VHS, and the new one in the cinema, I was blown way! I even made a pod racer model for a physics class. It was the time when I was thinking, “Hmm, what I’m going to do? What career fits best for me?” Watching the “making of” TV specials, and interviews with the artists behind the movies I said, as many people have been doing on the last 30 years, “This is something that I want to do; create amazing worlds, characters and adventures!”

Where did you get your idea for your film?

Surprisingly, my first experience with the Star Wars universe was not with the movies! It was with the Rebel Assault games and the Shadows of the Empire saga, thanks to the Nintendo 64 videogame, and later the Dark Horse comics. My mom and my aunt bought me these videogame magazines and I was absorbed by the pictures. I finally played the game a couple of years later because my computer couldn’t handle the PC version, and we never have a console besides the old NES.

During that time, I also found a novelization in Spanish from the first movie in my aunt’s house. I read it in a couple of days, it was awesome! The funny bit was that the things I knew about the Star Wars universe were kind of vague and alternative/secondary to the main story of the original trilogy, so my first and very own version of A New Hope was kind of crazy. For example, when I was reading I thought the Millennium Falcon was some kind of modified X-wing.

So that’s where my idea came from. When you were a kid, you retell a movie with so many things changed but with tons of wonder and enthusiasm. That’s what I want to reflect on my short film; and it looks that I made it!

Another source of inspiration happened last year, when I introduced the Indiana Jones and the Star Wars movies — in chronological order — to my little neighbors. They became really hardcore fans, making drawings and writing their own stories. They prefer the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars series, so there is something for everyone.

About the visual aspect of the film, I’m a really big fan of director Michel Gondry. The whole concept of the “Sweded” movies is amazing,. And after watching some fan videos like Empire in 60 seconds, or the famous Star Wars according to a 3 years old, I knew that I could do something that mixes these things by telling a story with really few resources, nothing fancy or pretentious, a naïve approach, and with a lot of heart using the magic of animation.

What are some of the technical aspects of your film? What did you shoot and edit with?

All the animation was digital, but to the untrained eye it looks like some form of stop-motion. I use a lot of textures scanned at home like fabric pieces, metal, paper, toys, sand, leaves and even towels. Everything around me had the risk of being scanned! I recycled some of the textures from my last project, but the new designs for characters and ships were new. I tried not to re-watch the movies during the production. I wanted a fresh approach, and if I forgot the details, the better! When a piece really didn’t work I use the Dorling Kindersley Visual Dictionary for reference.

I animated the whole short on After Effects with dozens of layers for each character and a ton of compositions for the main project. There are a couple of shots with 3-D footage made in Maya, and the sound mix was made on Audition. I put everything together on Premiere. It took me five weeks start to finish.

What were some of the challenges and surprises that happened to you as you were writing/directing/filming your movie?

The challenge was to keep the pace and the flow of the whole film, make it fun, and consistent. That took me a lot of time and multiple renders trying to give enough “space” to show the animation and to find the right feeling on each scene. I couldn’t make it without my new computer. I bought it thanks to the money from a special scholarship.

As we know, the subtitles are far from perfect. Originally, I wanted a kid narrator, but it’s hard to find one that speaks English here. The script typography is the same that is used here on elementary school. Maybe someday I can make a special edition fixing these little problems.

By the way, two funny things happened while making the film. I already made the Mon Mothma character realizing later that she doesn’t appear on A New Hope. It could be used like a nod for the sequels, but I dropped the idea. The other little detail was that I made a helmet for Luke for the Death Star attack sequence but I forget to use it on the composition! The layer was OFF! You can find it on the trailer. Another detail is the “in a notebook” vs. the “on the notebook” text on the very first video the “in” wasn’t there. I made a poster too — Spanish and English editions.

Who were all the principle people in helping get the film made? Who would you thank if your film won an Academy Award?

My family without a doubt. They always support my crazy ideas and the pursuit of my utopian dreams. So I must say thank you to my mom, Dora, my aunts, Gladys and Elsa, and my grandma, Marina. Thank you to my little neighbors, too, my friends and that very special person, Milena. (Hmm, that spoils the “subliminal message” on the short film credits!)

What do you love the most about Star Wars?

These movies made an industry. There are hundreds of people around the world that live and dream thanks to the possibilities these films have opened. People make movies, video games, TV series, books, comics, toys and novels. The movies are a spectacular take on the wonders of life, and that adventure could be yours.

Why do you think recognizing fan films is important?

All the fan films are fueled by passion, and that is something hard to find sometimes. You made it because you wanted it. You remember, what is the essence, what makes these movies exciting back then. So it’s a nice approach that you should take not only with your own fan movies, but in your professional or personal work, I think. It shows what you can do, when you really love something or someone; and to be recognized for that is an honor and a cool reward!

Watch all the fan movie winners here:

Atom: Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge

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