Prequel Trilogy,  Revenge of the Sith,  The Phantom Menace

SWCC 2019: 5 prequel-related highlights from the ILM model shop panel



“For more than 40 years, the hardworking talents behind the curtain at Industrial Light & Magic have been conjuring worlds and rewriting the rules of cinematic storytelling. During Sunday’s Star Wars Celebration Chicago panel, host David W. Collins was joined by legendary modelmaker Lorne Peterson, model makers Bill George, Jean Bolte, and John Goodson, and visual effects supervisor John Knoll as they recounted their decades of experience helping to forge the Lucasfilm legacy. Here are some of the most exciting moments from their discussion. […]


3. ILM models contain some hilarious Easter eggs. The practical model of the Naboo capital, Theed, was a massive 40-by-60-foot affair with lots of artificial grass; as a joke, Goodson snuck a model lawn mower and gas can into the miniature set.

4. Mustafar was a trial by fire for the ILM Model Shop. Slightly larger than half a tennis court, according to Peterson, the main miniature used for Mustafar could be tilted to direct the flow of “lava” along its many rivers of flame. The model was used for about 400 shots during photography on Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, requiring several large crews to manage things like the pumps that generated the lava effect. Theed and the Boonta Eve podracing track were comparable in size, Knoll noted, if not complexity.  […]



6. Some CGI shots have surprisingly humble beginnings. Those thousands of spectators at the Boonta Eve podrace in The Phantom Menace? Those are all Q-tips; they’ve just had their white tips painted various colors to create the illusion of crowded stands brimming with life. Some shots have a bit of light digital editing to hide anything that might give the trick away, but there are wide shots of the track where the audience is looking at the original Q-tips themselves. ILM achieved the waterfall shots in The Phantom Menace using granular sugar and salt. (They switched to salt because ants took a liking to the sugar!)

7. According to Knoll, the feature-length documentary The Beginning is perhaps the most authentic window behind the scenes at ILM and Lucasfilm. George Lucas wanted a film crew present at almost every major Episode I meeting, Knoll said, so cameras were a frequent sight. ILM got so used to them being around, they eventually stopped noticing; the result is an incredibly authentic look at the magic of moviemaking. The Beginning “tells a very truthful story,” Knoll added.


8. The advent of computer graphics caused the Model Shop a lot of anxiety in the ’90s. Bolte recalled being one of the first of ILM’s model makers to make the leap to the realm of CGI, and as a result, she feels the best visual-effects artists are typically the ones who understand the strengths and limitations of both methodologies. The best CGI artists, Knoll agreed, are generally ones who started with some form of practical effects. […]”


    • Alexrd

      It’s one of those lies that because it’s repeated everywhere, people think it’s true. The Phantom Menace alone had more pratical effects than the original trilogy combined.

      It also had a record-breaking amount of CGI, but the two are not (and never were) mutually exclusive.

  • Cryogenic

    @ Joe, @ Alex:

    And, of course…

    The prequels actually have a good deal more models and miniatures than the sequel trilogy; which Kathleen Kennedy boasted in July 2013 would be made using “every tool in the toolbox”:–more-real-effects-104549024.html

    “The conversation we’re having all the time now about ‘Episode VII’ is how much CGI. We’re looking at what the early ‘Star Wars’ films did; they used real locations with special effects. So [for ‘Episode VII’] we’re going to find some very cool locations, were going to end up using every single tool in the toolbox.”

    “I was amazed yesterday and looking at what the fans are doing. Using model makers, using real droids, taking advantage of the artwork that you can touch and feel, we want to do that in combination with CG effects.”

    And by “good deal more”, I mean…

    The prequels actually HAVE models and miniatures.

    Physical ones. Painstakingly crafted and painted by hand. Or in Kennedy’s words: “Artwork that you can touch and feel”.

    But this dimension of craftmanship strangely disappeared from the Disney films. Partial sets and props would be built, but miniature work would be done entirely inside a computer.

    So who put more into the crafting of their films? Which filmmaker pooled talents from all over and actually used “every tool in the toolbox”?

    Ironically, despite the fact that Lucas emphasised digital filmmaking in the behind-the-scenes material (especially on Episodes II and III), he was the one who used every tool; and with KK and Disney, it was just the reverse.

    • archdukeofnaboo


      You know, if there’s one SW dream I have, it’s one day for a Prequel fan (even a journalist if needs be) to grab the mic in the presence of Abrams, Kennedy et all, and confront them on this nonsense, this anti-PT propaganda they once touted. The prequelist need not be angry, they just need to be serious and to press them with all the facts we now have.

      I want an apology. I want to see these clowns red in the face when faced with a SW fan who hasn’t forgot.

      • Cryogenic

        @ Arch Duke:

        You’re right.

        But first off, let me walk back something I wrote earlier:

        “Ironically, despite the fact that Lucas emphasised digital filmmaking in the behind-the-scenes material (especially on Episodes II and III)”

        This was much more emphasised, I think, in Episode II — e.g., “From Puppets To Pixels”. Conversely, the big behind-the-scenes doc for Episode III, “Within A Minute”, took a more holistic view of the script-to-screen process. Other material for both movies varied in its emphasis on practical and digital craftmanship. But Lucas certainly emphasised digital filmmaking in a way the new copyright holders have been reluctant to.

        Back to you:

        Yes. Someone really needs to do that. Then again, I think prequel fans already came up trumps in different ways, like the big “Practical Effects In The Prequels” thread on TFN, which comprises more than one-hundred pages:

        The sad fact of the matter is that Kennedy, Abrams, et al., engineered a situation, or a rolling context, in which they would never be challenged on any of their dissimulation and lies, even by Lucas himself. Absolutely no-one had the authority, the backbone, the awareness, the opportunity, or the means (depending on which factors you feel apply) to come back at them (apparently). Well, outside of prequel fans, posting peacefully in their enclaves, as that thread on TFN proves.

        Something very sick about that. A completely credulous, cult-like environment was manufactured by Disney/LFL, which seemingly ensured nobody could, or would, come back at them with anything. Only Mark Hamill dared to throw them any protracted shade; and even then (not that he would have any particular reason to), he never really defended the PT; he focused instead on his character and highlighting the difference between Lucas and Disney generally.

        This, in itself, proves they had an agenda to package and sell Star Wars a certain way, and that being open and factual was never part of their game plan. Also, imagining them going red in the face, when confronted with the truth, is predicated on the assumption they are capable of feeling guilt and shame — and, I think, rather like a certain president who lies, lies, and lies again, they are far beyond caring about objective truths, and are now living in their own Post-Truth bubble.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.