Star Wars Redux: Practical Magic

sw tpm real set

The internet has Star Wars fans in a quandary, with leaked snaps surfacing of grungy costumes and practical, weather beaten sets from the Abu Dhabi location of  Episode VII, and now Han Solo’s ride, The Millenium Falcon, under construction at a secret location.

This, combined with the giant practical creature (operated by five internal puppeteers, it’s rumoured), and the wizened alien hogging the limelight in director JJ Abrams’ video message, augers well for the “authentic” feel of the new film. A return to the old methods of practical magic, many say, dismissing the derided prequels.

sw tpm pods

Yet a surprising amount of large scale models, sets and alien masks / make-up, even puppets, were still used on the prequel trilogy (outside locations more so on The Phantom Menace). Much, much more than is given credit for. It seems as if the old-school skills were glossed over, creator George Lucas keen to emphasise how advances in CG effects could finally give him a wider sense of scale and scope to what he envisioned “a long time ago“.

sw tpm miniature pod race arena

We have producer Rick McCallum to thank apparently for the use of these methods, believing digital compositing with large, detailed miniatures (Big-atures, before The Lord Of The Rings coined the term) would ground the films. And it isn’t just in backgrounds for wide, panning shots. Large scale Trade delegation hover tanks, including the odd full scale one, practical droids, even Naboo starfighters diving on wires were used in TPM. Padme’s shuttle landing on Mustafar is a model flying over a real model landscape, albeit digitally tweaked afterwards. Dennis Muren filmed in the Marin County hills around Skywalker ranch for the battle between the Gungans and droids, the final result combining CGI, a practical tank grinding into the soil, and real pyro explosions tearing up the dirt. The waterfalls on Naboo? salt.

sw tpm naboo

If people complain the prequels look too “computer-gamey” , that must be laid at the ground of Lucas – but Lucas the innovator. Attack of The Clones was the first large scale film to be realised completely with digital cameras, far less advanced than today’s. Someone had to push the envelope for technology to progress, I guess. The Phantom Menace was filmed on 35mm, and on location in an Italian lakeside palace. It looks far more rich and lush in comparison.

sw tpm palace

How do so many seem to be unaware of the scale of “real” filmmaking techniques in the prequels? A collective amnesia has led us to believe, erroneously, that practical magic was no longer deemed to be “an elegant weapon” for this “more civilised (prequel) time.

sw tpm practical droids

Ironically, with the wish to go practical as much as possible on Episode VII, ILM no longer has its own in-house model makers.  When Lucas decided to focus on digital effects in 2005, a management-led team bought the five physical and practical effects divisions and formed a new company,  Kerner Technologies, Inc.(ILM was known locally as Kerner in its early days). Kerner provided physical effects for major motion pictures, often working with ILM, until it went bankrupt in 2011.

For further BTS practical craftmanship from the prequels, see here. And here is a cheeky video that refashions the BTS Comic-Con snippet for Star Wars The Force Awakens, showing the practical location filming, rubber masks, and so on of the prequels (mostly The Phantom Menace). “Real sets.Practical effects. You’ve been here, but you don’t know this story…”

Originally posted 2014-06-03 22:41:19. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Read and post comments on this article