A Discussion: Practical Effects in Star Wars

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Erin Hayes

Erin's a producer, writer and content lover. She's worked with MediaBoss since 2008. In 2010, she quit her marketing and freelance writing jobs and came on to lead MediaBoss full-time.
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What do you do when you have big ideas but a small budget? You become an expert in using practical effects!

Our resident Star Wars fanatics, Ian Barrett and Nick Clarke sat down to discuss their favorite practical effects in the original trilogy – and share what they are looking forward to in the new trilogy:

Transcript below:

Ian Barrett: Bill Murray everybody.

Nick Clarke: Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Bill Murray.

Ian: The best theme ever written about Star Wars

Nick: We are talking about Star Wars and the effects and all things awesome about Star Wars. In celebration of the Force Awakens coming out this week.

Ian: I’m psyched the kids, like yourself, are into it.
In 1977 Star Wars was the film that made me want to be a director and producer. I walked out of that theater saying “That’s it. I just want to be a director/producer for the rest of my life.”

What’s important is that back in 77’ he (George Lucas) had a very tight budget to make this film. It’s just matte paintings, miniatures and optical effects that did this. In fact the big Thai Fight scene at the end when they are going after the death star, had something like 106 moving elements in that and at that time it was the most complicated special effect shot in the world.

The cool thing about the optical effects is that they stand up after all these years.

Nick: When you are talking about the tight budget – the opening shot of the first movie when the Star Destroyer is coming over – right after the crawl – that ship was supposed to be 50 feet long when they built it. They could only afford 4 feet.

Ian: Once again they accomplished that with a really great fish eye lens, right? And do you know it’s 4 feet? No, you don’t.

Did I talk to you about how they did the credits? They actually laid the credits on paper and they rolled the credits.

When the movie first came out, what blew me away was obviously once again that shot of the Star Destroyer was just epic, then the sound of the blasters (which, incidentally is a guy taking wrench and hitting a telephone pole wire. They just recorded it and slowed it down) and then light sabers.

It’s one of the most enduring special effects of all time. People are like “how did they do this?

Nick: When of the first projects I worked on at MediaBoss was putting in a light saber for one of the corporate videos we did. It’s a lot easier to do it now in After Effects then it was back then.

Ian: Now you can do this with software, a laptop and an iPhone.

Nick: A lot of it is automated in these programs.

Ian: Yeah! You just push a button!

So, Nick, what are you looking forward to in the new film?

Nick: Practical effects and also some new awesome CGI. It’s going to be a blend of both. Fans were really bummed out about how the prequels were so heavy on the CGI that J.J. Abrams wants to bring it back to how the old trilogy was made. With practical effects, sets – they went to Abu Dhabi to film most of the desert scenes. And for the light sabers, they used CG to make the glowing effect but they actually used LED when they shot it so they get glow on their face.

Ian: Which saves them a ton in post because that’s a big pain to do those glows and get that look.

I’m such a Star Wars geek that I own the full trilogy…

Nick: And what format is that in?

Ian: That’s, uh, Laser Disk, Nick.

Nick: Laser Disk?! Tell us more about that Ian.

Ian: It’s like a really huge CD.

Nick: I’ve heard about it but I’ve never seen one in person.

Ian: You’ve never seen one right? Because you are from this century and I am not.

Nick: Right. Millennials, you know what I’m saying’?

Ian: That is a Laser Disk.
In honor of the new trilogy coming out I made Nick watch the entire trilogy on laser disk.

Nick: Oh yeah, you made me do it.

Ian: What did you notice about the difference?

Nick: The, uh quality, was not as fine as a blue ray. But it was really cool to see how they were released back then.

Ian: I’m going to go see it but I’m not going to go see it opening weekend because I’m not one of those people.

Nick: Me neither

*Update – yes he did. Nick went to see it on opening night!*

Ian: I’m going go there at a midnight show like 2 weeks after its up and be myself and be in the center of it watching it.

Anyway, hope you guys see it. We wanted to just geek out a little bit.

And if you want to come by and check out our laser disks, come see us at mediabosstv.com and make an appointment. Maybe we’ll have a laser disk viewing party!

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