If George Lucas
is the father of Star Wars
, the JAK Art Department is the nanny -- nurturing and helping Lucas' ideas to grow. On the third floor of a grand Victorian-style mansion at Skywalker Ranch, the words Lucas writes or the ideas he voices spring to life as sketches, drawings, paintings and sculptures.
Concept art has been integral to the development of Star Wars films since the early 1970s, when illustrations by the renowned Ralph McQuarrie helped Lucas explain his vision to executives at Twentieth Century Fox and win the film a "green light."
On Revenge of the Sith, the work of the Art Department provided a critical visual framework for production designer Gavin Bocquet, costume designer Trisha Biggar and the entire team of effects artists at Industrial Light & Magic. Led by concept design supervisors Ryan Church and Erik Tiemens, the Art Department began its work on Revenge of the Sith even while Attack of the Clones was still being finished.
"The beginning is my favorite part of the process," says producer Rick McCallum
. "Since we start as George is still writing the script, anything the Art Department draws or imagines could possibly be in the movie. George is open to everything. Nothing is set in stone."
The group of 12 talented artists shaped the production by envisioning everything from Anakin and Obi-Wan's final lightsaber duel, to the sinkhole planet of Utapau, to the hair style that Anakin would wear. Many of their concepts would provide subtle visual connections to A New Hope, which was designed nearly 30 years earlier. The artists spent nearly a year developing concepts for vehicles, sets, furniture, uniforms -- everything that the audience would see.
One major challenge was designing the look of Revenge of the Sith's new villain, General Grievous. Even before Lucas had decided exactly what Grievous was, he turned to the Art Department for ideas. Their only direction: Make Grievous a combination of alien and droid and make him look scary. "As you go, you can change things around, make things your own, and things evolve," says concept artist Warren Fu, who seized upon the idea of a living alien inside the shell of a droid. "There's a little bit of an echo of what Anakin will become," Lucas says, explaining why he gravitated toward that idea.
The Art Department was also a major influence on the creations of production designer Gavin Bocquet and costume designer Trisha Biggar, both of whom worked on Episode I and Episode II. The challenges each of them faced were very different, yet at their core came from the same basic need -- to use Episode III as a visual link between the lush, romantic opulence of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and the harder-edged yet classic feel of the original Star Wars trilogy.
Bocquet's task was to design and construct 72 major physical sets (50 more than most large-scale movies). Some were complete unto themselves, while others had to blend seamlessly with digital effects that would be created months later by ILM artists. From Padmé's opulent apartment to the cockpit of a Trade Federation Cruiser to a sinister-looking conference room on molten Mustafar, the sets had to convey the grandeur and scope of the story as well as contain visual cues referencing movies that were shot years ago but come after the events of Revenge of the Sith when viewed chronologically.
Chief among these "connection" sets was Bocquet's detailed recreation of a main corridor on the Rebel Blockade Runner, the ship seen in the opening moments of A New Hope, and where R2-D2, C-3PO and Darth Vader first made their on-screen appearances. "It was a labor of love," Bocquet says. "Including that set in this movie provided an important tie to A New Hope, and it was important to all of us that it look and feel exactly like that original set." It wasn't easy: The first set was dismantled immediately after shooting, and Bocquet had to find the few blueprints that were left and reconstruct it bit by bit.
Costume designer Biggar also found herself needing to recreate something that audiences saw for the first time in 1977: Darth Vader's costume. While it had to look exactly the same as it did then, Biggar's imagination and artistry could flow freely for the dozens of other costumes in the movie.
Biggar and her team of craftspeople created no fewer than 500 costumes for Revenge of the Sith
, elevating the award-winning costume design of the Star Wars
saga to new heights and bringing a lush beauty to the movie. "Trisha designed Episode I, II and III, and with an ever-expanding universe, that was a real challenge," says producer McCallum. To meet it, Biggar expanded the search for unique fabrics that could bring an ethereal, otherworldly look to the costumes -- almost going across the universe herself.
"We ended up using fabrics from everywhere," Biggar says. "We had fabrics from the States -- New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles -- and London, Paris, Japan, China, India ... all over, really."
The exotic and sometimes mysterious nature of the costumes that Biggar creates is often hinted at by the plot. For instance, Biggar says, "We knew that Padmé was going to be pregnant through the whole film, and nobody in the outside world could know that. Because she's pregnant, I wanted a soft quality to be apparent in the fabrics that were used.
"But also in Episode III, the war has been going on for a few years, and Anakin has been gone, her situation is much more serious (than in Attack of the Clones). As a designer, I was able to show a more somber, serious side to her life, using slightly darker colors, but not making them hard," Biggar says. "It has been a wonderful experience to use the costumes as a way to bring out the emotions and personalities of the characters in such an epic story."
One of the most beautiful costumes that Biggar created for Amidala is the final gown the character wears. "I wanted to link back to when we saw her on the island for the first time in Episode II, when she and Anakin were together and beginning to fall in love. They were surrounded by water, and the colors of that were very beautiful, so it was nice to be able to use those colors again. We used a devoréd velvet that was hand-painted to add watery colors to it. There was also some very, very fine chiffon that I had dyed in blues and greens, using a technique to boil the chiffon to make it thinner and thinner, so it becomes almost like a spider's web.
"When I saw it on screen, the whole thing was actually much more beautiful than I had imagined. It's fantastic feeling when that happens," Biggar says.
To ensure that costumes would make a stunning impression on camera, Biggar worked closely with director of photography David Tattersall during pre-production. Creating the costumes was an exhaustive process, but one that Lucas and the movie's actors -- who, after all, are the ones who wear Biggar's memorable creations -- all say paid off handsomely.
"To wear the costumes as the character I play is wonderfully empowering," says Ian McDiarmid
), who had a favorite costume among the many he wears in the movie: a high-collared jacket that looks much like the skin of a snake or lizard on screen. "It just feels reptilian, which is exactly right for him," McDiarmid says of the character he plays.
Though Amidala has the most costume changes, Palpatine proved the most daunting challenge, Biggar says. "His six costumes get progressively darker and more ornately decorated throughout the movie. He wears grays and browns, almost going to black, taking him toward the dark side."
Seemingly straightforward, Vader's costume required minor but important changes from the original. "We wanted to make it look slightly more mechanized, as if it were brand new -- which, in the story, it is," Biggar says. "The changes added a certain awkwardness in the movement, which was appropriate, since this is the first time Anakin is wearing it."
For cinematographer Tattersall, Vader's first appearance brought shudders -- but not because of Vader's evil nature. "I'm just thinking how the hell are we going to light that black helmet against a black sky?" he laughs.
Revenge of the Sith presented more than a few logistical hurdles for Tattersall and his team. "What's unusual about Episode III, surprisingly enough, is not that we're shooting high-definition digital photography, it's the colossal number of effects shots that we're dealing with, the number of virtual sets, and stages that are either partially or totally green screen or blue screen. That's very difficult. But thanks to George and his vision and his persistence and support, we get in there and we make it all work out."
When Darth Vader takes those tentative first steps in his black armor, he moves into a world envisioned by the Art Department and brought to life by the cinematographer, the production designer and the costume designer -- a dedicated team working to make Star Wars a cinematic reality.