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Anatomy of a Dewback Transcript

DAVID TANAKA: I remember Star Wars came out when I was in elementary school. And one of the key things that I remember my friends talking about was this is a really cool creature. The point that would always be brought up would be that, “Wouldn’t it be great if we actually saw that move?” So when I first heard that we were restoring and adding effects to to the Tatooine dune sequence and one of the things that we were going to be doing was, um, making all these dewbacks move, it was kind of like “Okay, sure. Yeah, that would be great.”

GEORGE LUCAS: In the original movie, in order to get dewbacks and things into the movie, we built a large rubber, uh, mannequin really that we were able to move around from set to set. He had a big stick in his head that somebody could sit alongside and move the head back and forth. And that was about as much movement as I could get out of it. You know, it was a very crude thing. I tried, again, to get as many different kinds of spaceships, robots, vehicles, animals, as I could possibly fit into the movie. I was always very frustrated about the fact that I couldn’t get the dewbacks to actually move or do anything. They were just basically big rubber statues.

TOM KENNEDY: On a typical film, when ILM’s working on shots, we may have anywhere from 50 to sometimes 1,200 shots in a film. It helps not to just give them numbers, because a little hard to keep track that you’re working on shot 437. how is that different from shot 512? So instead, usually they’re broken down by sequences. So in this— in Star Wars, we took the Tatooine dune sequence, and the first three shots that came in were were TD1— for “Tatooine Dune”— TD1, TD2 and TD3.

HOWARD GERSH: TD3 was actually an existing shot, and what that was was a puppet of a dewback on the berm up on the hill on the horizon. And George was never happy with that. He wanted the dewbacks to be more articulate.

DAVID TANAKA: If you look at the shot as it existed in the original Star Wars, it’s kind of buffered by two transition points. I think what happens is you have a clockwise wipe that goes from a sand crawler shot into the Tatooine dunes shot.

[the original Tatooine Dunes shot plays]

DAVID TANAKA: And then you have an iris-out shot back to another miniature-photography shot. So right away, we realized that we weren’t dealing necessarily with live action. What we were dealing with was, um, an element that was at one time or another brought down to an optical house, recomped to add the transition. So what was in the movie was not the original footage.

T.M. CHRISTOPHER: When I started the picture this shot was missing. TD3 was missing.

TIM FOX: Here we are in the Lucasfilm archives, which houses all the materials shot for every Lucasfilm production, beginning with THX 1138. This is where the search for the “trooper in the desert” sequence began, starting with the Star Wars work-print material which Tom Christopher, the editor, had already removed into his cutting room. There he was able to identify which elements he thought would be useful in remaking the effect. And it was my job after that to start a search for the negative.

GEORGE LUCAS: I started out as an editor so, to me, saving the film— the film is what the whole process is about. And so I’ve saved all my films. I’ve saved all the negative. I’ve saved everything. Partly ’cause I’m a pack rat and partly because, as an editor, I just don’t want to throw those things out. ‘Cause I never know when I might want

to go back and go back into it again.

TIM FOX: To look for the negative, I had to come here to our cold-storage vault, which houses all the negative for Willow, Indy movies, Empire— And finally, we get to the Star Wars area which is where I had to go digging for the “trooper in the desert” negative. So what happened is we went through all these boxes. We were not able to find the one that was actually used to make the effect.

DAVID TANAKA: So as Tim Fox and company was looking for the select negative at the Ranch, we continued to possibly find ways to use the outtakes. Here’s the outtakes. I think there are around approximately six shots. But for one reason or another, it became apparent that it wasn’t as good as a select take. There are certain things that I’m sure Mr. Lucas didn’t necessarily want the audience to see. For example, this guy turns his head, and you can see through the mask.

T.M. CHRISTOPHER: Several people wanted to actually go and try to shoot this shot over. That was a real theory. Just before it was scanned, we found the o-neg— the original neg that went into the shot.

TIM FOX: All this material was discovered at ILM. And this had been sitting, unbeknownst to anybody, on top of their cold-storage vault. And it was just by luck somebody found it. And inside, sure enough, was the select slate.

LEON BRIGGS [YCM]: Tom Christopher’s group up there was able to locate all the original negative, ’cause George had fortunately kept all the pieces. And we had to additionally rewash every piece of negative that way, too, so we could recomp these. That immediately took all the dirt problems that were built into the opticals out.

PETE COMANDINI [YCM]: All the splices were backed up with tape, and it was put through a processing machine again to loosen the emulsion and get as much of the embedded dirt and material that had been in there for 20 years off the negative so it would look a lot cleaner.

LEON BRIGGS [YCM]: Fortunately, because of the way the negative was cut, we were able to dissect the film. We double scrubbed and double rewashed these negatives. I know, when people heard that we were doing this, they really sucked in their breath, you might say— [laughs] because this is a classic you don’t want anything to happen to. We cleaned that up and immediately we got anywhere from a 65% to a 95% improvement. It gave us a groundwork to start from that was clean and as good as we could get it.

TOM KENNEDY: We were asked to take that shot as a plate and remove the rubber puppets so that we could put computer graphics-generated puppets in. So in order to do that, what we had to do was scan that, turn it into a digital file, establish what the geometry probably was, what the size of a person was, what lens they probably used, so we could build the 3-D space.

ALEX SEIDEN: Design work is of course a critical part of the process. And one of the things that was really important with the dewbacks was getting some really good drawings, which we had Terryl Whitlatch, one of our art directors, do. And her work really helped us hone in on the dewback that we wanted to build.

TERRYL WHITLACH: I had a really, really small still from a Star Wars book of the head of a dewback and I thought about, “What is a dewback like?” I started thinking about their personality, you know, and, obviously, how large they are, how heavy are they. That was pretty important— the sheer bulk of the creature and how fast could it move. Then I thought, “Well, how many babies does it have? How long do they live?” All kinds of thoughts like that. And I figured that it may have some characteristics like a camel, like a dromedary. And so I added some features like these calluses on the chest and on the elbows. I emphasized the hump up here on its neck a little bit because perhaps it stores its fat, because it has to go long periods of time without eating. It just has a thick, rhinoceros-like skin, and the feet have spongy pads, like a camel’s feet.

GEORGE LUCAS: I wanted to give a a kind of random, real world feel to everything. So I wanted to do some things that weren’t predictable, like having stormtroopers ride on dewbacks. If you were to think about it very long, you would think, well, they’d be riding mechanized machines and things like that. But, um, the idea was that there was a creature like a dewback that existed in the desert, you know, like a lizard, that was very adaptable to the desert and was actually much better in terms of maintenance and upkeep than a machine which the sand would get into and, uh, you know— It was very expensive to keep those machines going out there in the middle of the desert, where the dewbacks are very cheap to run, and they last a lot longer.

GEORGE LUCAS: When I said I wanted to add a couple of shots to the sequence, um, at first we just thought we’ll go into the library and we’ll get some shots of the dunes, and then we’ll just put some, you know, more computer characters in there. And then as I got more ambitious, I wanted to have more stormtroopers. And they couldn’t find any really good plates that were static that did what we wanted. And out of that came the decision that we really should go out and reshoot the plates.

HOWARD GERSH: We had two CG dewbacks. And they kind of have a little dialogue together. A little bit. And he wanted to embellish that even more to show that the troopers were actually riding around on those. So we added the two scenes before TD1— Tatooine Dunes 1 and 2.

TED GAGLIANO [FOX]: We gave ILM a time print of that reel, and they storyboarded it, matched it, and knew exactly what they were going to go out and shoot out there.

ALEX SEIDEN: Previsualization is key to visual effects because you’re dealing with a situation where a very important part of your shot doesn’t exist when you shoot it. So you have to do a lot of pre-planning. You have to understand where things are going to be, you know, spatially and make a lot of the creative decisions that normally in live-action photography you would make on the set and play around with, and make them up front because you won’t be able to see what you’re getting on the set. And if you don’t think about that ahead of time, you can paint yourself into a big corner.

DAVID DOZORETZ: The first thing we had to do was build geometry that was going to represent certain parts of the scene. For example, the dewback that the artist, Terryl Whitlatch, designed. We can see in this three-dimensional modeling program that we have front, top, and side views, and a camera view of what this creature is gonna look like. This will allow us to— This will allow the computer to calculate what each surface of this creature is going to look like from different camera angles. The next step was to bring the elements— the 3-D model elements— into a three-dimensional animation rendering program. And in that, we can set up virtual lights, virtual cameras, and virtual objects to duplicate what would happen on a real set. You can see that it’s extremely rough here, and it goes into more and more refined stages of animation. We went through a few versions of this “stormtrooper in the desert” shot in order to get all the action down the way they liked.

GEORGE LUCAS: When you’re directing a movie and you have a cowboy on a horse and you say, “Okay, a little bit to the left. Now run forward.” You look at it through the camera. You say, “Okay, that’s great. That’s a rehearsal. This time, come a little bit closer to the camera. Start a little back, move to the left, and about halfway through, sort of rein your horse up a little bit.” That’s the normal way you direct. And you keep doing takes and takes until you sort of get it the way you want it to be. With computer technology and doing scenes that are basically done in a computer, you need to be able to have that same feedback in the process of creating the shot and framing the shot and deciding whether it’s going too fast, too slow, too close to the camera, too far away. And that’s what this whole low-res previsualization aspect of it is. It’s a way for the director to actually see the shot, nail down the shot, and say, “Okay, that’s the way I want it.”

T.M. CHRISTOPHER: It was wonderful to be able to rely on David Dozorets to be able to take something— a concept that, you know, was often just scribbled on paper and make a shot up that could then be critiqued four or five times by George and myself. And we could make the thing fit into the mold of the of the scene.

ALEX SEIDEN: One of the big challenges of dealing with the Tatooine dune sequence was we had the match new photography with old photography. The original shot—the pan across the landscape, the stormtrooper coming up with the little gasket, saying, “Look, sir, droids.” The original look of all of that. we had to match that with our two new shots. We had to match the quality of the landscape. We also had to match the look of the filtration and the way the lens is flaring and the highlights look in the old shot that we had to duplicate.

DAVID TANAKA: The first thing that was very apparent was the glare on the stormtrooper. And if we were trying to match two new shots within the same sequence to something shot 20 years ago, we had to find out exactly how that glare was produced. And one way to do that was through— going through the continuity reports. The paperwork gave us information pertaining to lens, focal length, T-stops, and also the type of netting that was used to produce this effect. Unlike a restoration project like Wizard of Oz or Vertigo, we had George. And one of the first things George pointed out was, “I remember this shot, and I remember”— Aesthetically, he had a reason for adding a filter specifically for this type of glare. And that was he wanted it to be hot, and he wanted the the audience to know that this was not a very comfortable setting.

NELSON HALL: In the summer of 1995, I got a call out of Rick McCallum’s office— a request actually— that several of the old stormtrooper costumes needed to be pulled for Star Wars the Special Edition.

TED GAGLIANO [FOX]: I told Rick, I guess at one point, the story of how I was always really jealous of my two best friends in high school who were friends with Ben Burtt— the Silla brothers. And I was always a step behind John Silla, who was valedictorian of our class. Ben recorded their voices. [“All pilots to your stations. All pilots to your stations.”] So for 20 years, it really bugged me that both of these guys got to be in Star Wars, and here I was working on it. So I told Rick about them being in it, and he called me up a few weeks later and said, “What are your measurements?” And I said, “Well, six feet.” I really didn’t know what he was— He said, “What’s your weight?” And I said, you know, “160.” He said, “Well, that’s”— I started to wonder, “Why is he asking me these”— He said, “Oh, that’s perfect. That’s perfect. Perfect.” And he goes, “Well, can you just reserve August 10th and 11th on your calendar? Are you gonna be anywhere? We might just need an extra stormtrooper.” I said— I was on the phone with him. My eyes lit up. “Stormtrooper?” He said, “Yeah, yeah. You know, those Silla brothers, I think it’s time that you put to rest this grudge that you’ve been carrying.”

NELSON HALL:  This is where we keep all of the props, costumes, matte paintings, um, models, miniatures, creatures, puppets and so forth for all the Lucasfilm productions throughout the years. And when the time came for me to find the stormtrooper costumes, they were actually in a big trunk like this. These are original costumes and probably were some of the ones actually sent down for the reshoot. I think a creative decision was also made that it would be better to have the originals. The color of them would tend to match better to the original footage. This is a shoulder piece that the stormtroopers had to wear, and then these backpacks also had to be made to match more or less the original backpacks from the original footage in Star Wars.

TED GAGLIANO [FOX]: So I immediately started training. I drove out there with my little brother, who I wanted to see me be a stormtrooper. That was also incredibly important— that someone in my family witness me being a stormtrooper.

ALEX SEIDEN: It was a brutal shoot, one of the toughest that I’ve been on. I mean, it was a lot of fun because it was amazingly beautiful and we got to ride around in dune buggies and, you know, charge through the desert. And we had U.S. Marines walking around in stormtrooper costumes in this blistering 120-degree heat. So it was a very exciting experience to be out there. Definitely felt like you were out on Tatooine in the middle of nowhere.

TED GAGLIANO [FOX]: I was very hot in that suit, and I was incredibly self-conscious because I was this thirtyish guy with all these marines. Rick got them to put me in front with the binoculars. So fortunately I didn’t have to move, because I was not nearly as coordinated as the marines. So I just had to sit there with my little binoculars and stand there and roast in the heat.

GEORGE LUCAS: Going out and shooting a plate is not a big deal relative to the other things you do on a movie. Even though you have a reasonably sized crew, when you’re actually out there, you know, with the dune buggies and the troopers and the cameras and the people, it’s a it’s a sizeable and expensive operation. In the overall process of making a film, it’s a very small unit.

HOWARD GERSH: Here’s the plate we shot In Arizona. We shot it oversize and included some tennis balls just so we can track our virtual camera to this plate. We’re later gonna crop in to a 2.35 crop, which is the aspect ratio of the film. here we’re tracking our 3-D computer graphics spheres to those tennis balls. And we also have some landmarks back there— some cones— that are hopefully locked solid to some of the valleys. For us to lock this, that means the dewback is gonna be locked to the sand. He won’t be rubbing against the sand. If there’s any sliding at all, it’s gonna give the gag away. This is Softimage. This is what we animate the dewback and trooper in. So that then gets painted and textured and lit.

[Dewback Model Animatic]
TOM KENNEDY: This is a very very crude dewback.
ALEX SEIDEN: Yeah, it’s a little too long-striding for uh…
ALEX SEIDEN: …what we were thinking but…
GEORGE LUCAS: …all right. Well, it’s getting there.
ALEX SEIDEN: and we like the way that stormtrooper kind of waddles and gets thrown back and forth.
GEORGE LUCAS: Yeah. No, I like that too. The Stormtroopers, you know, in the pictures, have these big long poles…
GEORGE LUCAS: …which one might assume are used to zap the thing on the head or something.

HOWARD GERSH: The first thing I do is I throw a plastic dewback in the scene just to get him roughed out. It’s just basically size and proportion.

[Dewback Animatic]
GEORGE LUCAS: It’d probably better if he was coming toward us.
GEORGE LUCAS: You know, if he were revealed just as that guy walks right, –You don’t see him before this guy– but as he’s revealed, say, you know, about in there…
GEORGE LUCAS: Yeah, and he’s a little further away but he’s sort of coming toward us.

HOWARD GERSH: I then apply what we call ViewPaint. We can orient the dewback in any orientation. We paint right on the dewback’s scales. I found this shot really easy to light in terms of the troopers because we had so much reference. Here, at the bottom of the frame, you’ve got some of the trooper shadows. Here. And you can see the direction of the sun. So I have to mimic my key light— my virtual key light— based on where I think the sun is. Ishade allows me to place the lights where I want, so I’m getting this rim light here from the key light actually. It’s doing some nice effects on the top of the dewback and the back feet as well. And I’ve got a bounce light in here as well, just to give it some ambient light. Here’s the final comp. Here you can see I’ve added some star cross filters to mimic some of the work in the old footage.

ALEX SEIDEN: One of the things that was important to the original photography is that it had a very soft look, had that sort of gauzy, kind of rich, almost dreamy quality. Panty hose over the lens which gives you those very distinctive four-cornered flares. If you look at the shots before they’re treated with our “panty hose” filter, you’ll find that they’re very crystal sharp, and it would be very jarring to see that kind of stuff cut in.

TOM KENNEDY: Secondary animation is often added, so not only does it move and hit the ground, but when it hits the ground, its belly will jiggle. It sells the mass and weight of something like a dewback.

GEORGE LUCAS: I hope the sequence now establishes that there are more stormtroopers on the planet, that it’s not just two or three stormtroopers, that there’s actually a lot of them. The danger is greater, and they are a more formidable element in the movie than they were before.

ALEX SEIDEN: The important thing about the Tatooine dune sequence was that we were trying to make a story point, in that the Storm Troopers weren’t a bunch of lame-os that just spent five minutes looking for the droids and didn’t find them. They actually got out there and conducted a full-scale search of the planet, and to make it a little— you know, increase the dramatic tension and the stakes and give more of a sense of a wider scope to the story that’s being told.

T.M. CHRISTOPHER: What I feel when I see it now is that, uh, the Tatooine planet, okay, is being investigated by a detachment of stormtroopers, which is a line from the movie, basically. Something that Vader says in reel one.

PETE COMANDINI [YCM]: One of the original difficulties with that particular sequence was that it involves wipes, and when they wipes were originally made, they had not fine-tuned the color correction from the “A” or the beginning side of the wipe, to the “B.” So the timer in 1977 had no choice but to put a bump in the middle of that wipe. When the negative cutter has finished assembling all the scenes as they need to be in the final process, we then make sure that all the correct light points and everything have been inserted for both the old material and the new material that we get from both Pacific Title and ILM. The idea was to make sure that the people that were compositing these new wipes knew exactly the color we wanted at the beginning of the shot and the end of the shot, so that when we got it all done there wouldn’t be any bumps.

LEON BRIGGS [YCM]: The goal here is to is for the people that have seen it in the past in the theaters, for them not to see anything new— other than maybe new characters or or new additional scenes which were put in— but not to notice anything different that would strike them and say, “Whoa. What did they do here?” or something like that. The idea is to to make it as close to what they originally remember as possible.

TED GAGLIANO [FOX]: What I hope it is is something that’s timeless, that it’s just a beautiful print, film print of a great movie.

GEORGE LUCAS: When we decided that we would restore the films— And, um, I realized that I had an opportunity to fix a lot of the problems that I’d had when I first finished the film. I looked at the film and began to pull all the old thorns out of my side, one of which was the dewbacks and the fact that the dewbacks couldn’t walk. And I always wanted them to have movement and walk around and be part of the population of the film.


Published by doubleofive

Curator of Star Wars Visual Comparisons, webmaster for Star Wars Revisited, former co-host of Standard Orbit podcast, all around nerd.

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