George Lucas’ work system while filming Star Wars was slightly different from the standard system practiced in Hollywood films produced by mainstream studios. He also hired friends, artists, and other experts in various fields; and not all of them were film professionals.
Although there were attempts to create full-fledged special effects companies during that time, most where disbanded due to their high cost and partly because they’re not sustainable. Back those days, the American taste went to the very realistic-looking films.
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Since there were no special effects companies during those days, in summer of 1975, Lucas founded the visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).
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It was a time of grand experimenting for Lucas and his team. Architectural models and concept art works were consistently produced. The production involved making various types of photographic and cinematic effects, studying and executing visual and robotic works, and building the production’s own camera systems.
Logistic Aspect of the Production
Early on during its pre-production phase, it was acknowledged that Star Wars was a big movie project for 20th Century Fox. It was Lucas’ dream project and it also came at a time that the studio was intending to venture into something relatively huge and ambitious that could become a pioneering blockbuster hit. After years of flops and financial instability, Fox profited greatly with Lucas’ prior film American Graffiti, the third highest grossing film of 1973. It was a time for Fox to get down on its feet and make something big as a form of recovery.
Lucas knew he had to contend and make compromises for both his vision and his primary dealings with the studio. The big budget must be justified, the contracts must be amenable, and there were just a lot of other important logistical concerns addressed throughout the production.
Since he decided to divide his Star Wars story into three films, Lucas also considered the future of his other two films early on with the preparations for his first Star Wars film, which would later on be part of the Star Wars trilogy. He also protected the trilogy’s unwritten two parts by making sure that he would have the rights for them.
Lucas was aware of the risk of his two sequels not getting the funding they needed if the first film would become a flop. He worked with his agent to come up with possible talks for the future of his trilogy. Later on, he also wanted to make sure he legally had the rights/licenses to his merchandising plans for the Star Wars brand. During those times, marketing and merchandising works for films were not a big deal for studios yet (and the industry as a whole). However, Lucas felt that Star Wars would have that potential to create and profit from merchandising items like toys, shirts, and caps. And so, it was fairly easy for him to acquire all the licenses for the future merchandising items of Star Wars without much issue from the studio. As he took over the licenses that the studio didn’t care about, he was able to take advantage of them until Hollywood finally realized that his marketing and merchandising strategies were valuable investments. This soon changed the world of movie marketing and merchandising in Hollywood.
Founding of Industrial Light & Magic
Starting from scratch, the ILM team moved in to a big, empty warehouse without rooms and film equipment. From there, they started working with the special effects needs of Star Wars.
The concept of motion control started during Star Wars’ production. According to the film’s visual effects supervisor John Dykstra, the old concept of being able to duplicate camera motion through more than one pass to generate multiple elements for the film was something they really allotted time with. They had to make the workflow production savvy. They also built a computer with custom-built microprocessors from scratch. As this was during the early 1970s, it was a much different ballgame in terms of how computers looked and functioned. It was a time where no PCs are available in the market yet.
ILM had another team constructing model space ships. With a small art department team, concept models were made out of cardboards. Lucas and his collaborators also made very detailed works with the storyboards and illustrations to guide all the teams involved in making the film. Most of these visual elements and effects came from the team’s visions, sketches, and paintings. It was a very intimate work team. They had no much outside influences in the entire coarse of production.
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