Although the Star Wars saga occurs in a galaxy far, far away, it was created by imaginative artists and filmmakers located initially in California, and later stationed worldwide. Using a range of special effects tools, these creators were able to design the fantastic, yet realistic settings that appear in the Star Wars films. Artists painted storyboards and mattes, while filmmakers used the chroma key process (popularly known as blue screen) as well as models to offset live action in complex sequences within the movies.
In order to save on production costs, producers of the Star Wars saga employed a sizable army of artists to produce preliminary storyboards. These storyboards ranged from rough sketches to full-fledged paintings, some of which were also used as early promotional materials for these films. Eventually, the storyboarding process was streamlined via the extensive use of animatics, or motion-filled versions of action sequences for a film. While these animatics are very complex, they still serve the same purpose of traditional storyboards. Storyboards permit filmmakers to modify complicated sequences before engaging in a movie's production.
Much like storyboards, matte paintings are imaginative illustrations created by professional artists. However, unlike a storyboard, a matte painting is produced to be included as a backdrop within a finished film. Thus, matte paintings are meticulously created, and usually exhibit high degree of realism. These paintings are sometimes created as "cycloramas," to provide 360 degree coverage or to support multiple camera angles. In recent years, most matte paintings have been created with the aid of digital photo painting software.
Prior to the Star Wars films, the blue screen technique was used sparingly as a production device in popular films. Used in films like The Old Man and the Sea and 2001: a Space Odyssey, blue screens were essential in the production of the early Star Wars films. Actors were filmed in front of blue screens during many of a film's most complicated visual sequences, and producers were later able to replace the blue portions inside of each frame with a separate image. A solid and evenly-lit color such as blue or green proved easy to replace with a new image. Thus, in The Empire Strikes Back, actors were able to appear inside of spaceships, speeding convincingly through an asteroid field. This same sort of technology is employed nightly during weather forecast broadcasts by local news stations.
The final Death Star battle in Star Wars (1977) was produced with the aid of a number of models. Special effects experts, overseen by John Dykstra, used a newly-designed motion-controlled camera system to film a massive model of the Death Star's surface. The model filled the floor of a large studio, and later appeared in the finished film to fill up miles of space.
Later films in the Star Wars saga rely heavily on computer generated imagery. Partially introduced in revised versions of earlier films, C.G.I. techniques were later utilized in full force in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 1999. This technology allowed director George Lucas to realize elaborate ideas that could not be executed on earlier Star Wars films. Thus, backdrops in recent Star Wars films are busy activity, with computer-generated spaceships or characters filling up a large percentage of the screen. Indeed, the final battle in Star Wars: Episode III, on the surface of the fiery planet of Mustafar, would have been nearly impossible to achieve without C.G.I. technology.
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