For those of us fortunate enough to belong to Generation: Original Trilogy, these are nostalgic times. That feeling we had, that look we remember, and those sounds that have forever echoed in our conscience have once again penetrated us and have bound us together.
After watching the glorious premiere of Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion, I almost went to Google to make sure Ronald Reagan wasn’t President. Executive producer Dave Filoni and his team have created a new yet familiar universe that hearkens back to the look and feel we fell in love with.
In August 1979, I started school as a five year old filmmaker. I suppose filmmaker isn’t really true. I had no film, but I definitely was a maker. Art class might as well have been called Concept Art 101. Music class could have been named John Williams Appreciation. I believe my first composition was an Imperial March remix on xylophone. I was a little different than most kids my age. Seeing Star Wars on the screen didn’t make me want to grab a lightsaber and save the galaxy, seeing Star Wars made me want to get a camera and create a galaxy. My brothers and friends wanted to be Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or Lando Calrissian. I wanted to be George Lucas, Ben Burtt or John Williams.
Today, I am a freelance filmmaker/composer and no matter the project I am working on, the influence of the Star Wars aesthetic is with me. Always.
When I watch Star Wars, I watch not only for the pure fan experience, but also with a keen interest in the art form and technical aspects. I look at the colors, styles, and effects that have helped shape and influence my craft.
Let’s briefly take a look at some of the production elements and overall visual tone of Star Wars Rebels.
Like its animated predecessor, The Clone Wars, the 3D animation style of Rebels is created with Autodesk Maya 3D software. Maya has been an industry standard in film, television and video games since the 3D animation boom of the 1990s. In fact, the Walt Disney Animation Studios had a hand in the early development of Maya while in production of their animated feature Dinosaurs in 1998.
3D animation production is a complex process. Without getting too technical, think of the traditional 2D animation style as creating a character and drawing his/her every movement on individual frames. This is a tedious process for sure, but the flatness and shading techniques are not nearly as time consuming as is the production and detailing of 3D. In 3D animation, you not only create the character, but build the skeleton or mesh so each joint can be manipulated through computer software. By using 3D dynamics in the software, the artist can create real world functions such as gravity, hair/fur movements, or fire and liquid effects. The final look gives the viewer a sense of realism and can go places that 2D animation cannot.
The Rebels production crew designed the tone and color scheme of the show to reflect Ralph McQuarrie’s original Star Wars concept art. The team even created a custom Adobe Photoshop brush to give the characters and scenes a McQuarriesque feel. The glowing tones shine through in the series as we view the scenic landscape of Lothal, the dim grayness of the Empire, and the orange warmth of the Rebellion.
But even with the stunning colors and 3D realism, what makes Rebels so visually appealing is the original trilogy film grain look. This process can be credited to CG supervisor Joel Aron. Aron, a veteran of The Clone Wars series, meticulously re-created the visual look by referencing the exact Kodak 5247 film stock used in the first three films. The Kodak-Eastman Color Negative Film 5247 was introduced in 1974 and provided a more contrasty look.
In Rebels, the film look is at its most evident during space scenes. Aron also was able to add the effect of the 1970s Panavision camera lenses, further enhancing the authenticity. Although these effects are subtle, they provide just the right touch to give Rebels a consistent look that pays homage to the original films.
It’s safe to say that we are in for a treat as Star Wars Rebels continues to explore new landscapes, ships, and characters. In future posts, I look forward to going into the details of specific elements such as the lightsabers, the ships and analysis of the sounds and music of Star Wars Rebels.
Until then, enjoy the ride as we embark on a return to the Star Wars universe that started it all!