Supervising Director, Dave Filoni talks to Star Wars Insider about creating The Clone Wars TV series, working with George Lucas, juggling storylines, creating new stories for the Star Wars Universe, and pleasing the fans. To read the full interview pick up Star Wars Insider #80 on sale NOW or visit www.titanmagazines.co.uk to subscribe.
How long does it take to do an episode?
Dave Filoni: From start to finish, there’s about a two-week period where we rough out the story with visuals and storyboards. Then we have a six-week period where we shoot it digitally with cameras. Every little set exists in a small 3-D world, and George has really taught me how to shoot it more like a live-action film than an animated movie. So it’s a period of about two months before we get an episode from its roughest stage to preparing it to be animated. Then it takes about another two months to do the full animation itself.
How big is the team working on each episode?
DF: When you get into all the modelling and rigging of each character, we have around 75 people working on it. On any one episode, I also have about four story artists and an episodic director to tell the story, and a fantastic editor who can handle it all.
How did you realize the human characters in CG?
DF: That was a huge challenge. Some of the 3-D model makers and “riggers” who worked on the prequels usually deal in photorealism. For the movies, they had to create digital characters that were going to walk around with Ewan McGregor and be convincing. I knew going in that we weren’t going to be able to do that for this series, and we wanted the series to be different from a live-action feature.
When I draw a simple smiley face, it’s a circle with an arc and two dots. Every child and adult knows that that’s “happy.” You can feel that kind of genuine happiness come out of that simple drawing, and yet we’ve all seen examples in the digital world where something is so photo-real down to skin cells and hair and yet there’s something [off] about it. We don’t believe it’s happy.
So, in this series, I wanted to try and attack human characters like I used to in drawing, and stylize the face a little bit more. If you look at Anakin he has certain edges and lines in his face. They might be unnaturally straight or unnaturally curved, but then that plays into the lighting of it. We actually light far more dramatically to get edges or shadows. I’m really happy with the results our crew has come up with.
What are the animation offices like at Lucasfilm? Is it chaotic or very orderly? Does George drop by?
DF: Well, it’s a very creative atmosphere. We work at Big Rock Ranch, which is a couple of miles away from Skywalker Ranch. We’re in the hills of Marin County. If you know the planet Naboo, where Padmé was from, it looks like we’re living there. Our place is on a lake and it’s absolutely beautiful.
We have a fantastic crew. Trying to make this show for television is [an] immense [challenge], but everybody has a great attitude about it. They all love Star Wars. A lot of people I work with grew up with Star Wars. They have a love of that mythology. It’s great to work with a team of people like that, and we have a great time.
It is very hard work. It gets very intense, but when you’re trying to push something artistically and make it the most it can be, I think you have to do that. George is there, and he’s really engaged in what we are doing. We have the guy who created the Star Wars universe excited and interested about what we are doing in that universe. So we couldn’t be happier about that, either.
Is George Lucas involved on a day-to-day basis, or does he look at the episodes and then comment on them?
DF: Well, he comes up with story ideas and presents them, and then we form the script, and it’s really like a series of check-ins that we have with him, sometimes pretty often. He’s a really busy guy, so I’m very happy when we get his time. He’s always available to me in [the] editorial [stage]. I come up with ideas and George comes to me with ideas and says, “I’d like to tell this kind of story.” We’ll collaborate on it.
He’s very involved in that part of the process. I’ve been a student of his—not just filmmaking, but of Star Wars—for years. It’s been really important to get inside his mind and see how he thinks this universe should work, so that a lot of the judgments, and decisions I make are based on what I think he would say is best for his characters and for the universe. But I always have his ear. I think he’s having a lot of fun working with us on this.
What’s the story potential in The Clone Wars? Does the conflict extend as long as the series runs?
DF: That’s the good thing about not just telling Anakin Skywalker’s story. If we were doing that, we would be stuck on one single arc. I look at the episodes where we have him and Ahsoka, his student, and I know that there is an arc there, because something has to happen to her. We don’t see her in Revenge of the Sith. We show the progression of the war. Because we can go left or right of that plot and deal with characters that we have never seen, there is a lot of material, so I can continue with the story.
In fact, that’s one of the things I have been amazed by. In Star Wars history, the Clone Wars take up a three-year period, but there are so many stories to tell. I’ve been amazed by what we didn’t get to, just in the first season. [There are storylines] I would still like to get to, and characters we would still like to explore. So for me, the longer it goes, the more chance we all get to tell fascinating stories in that galaxy.
Do you feel in any way constrained by the events from the films that you have to work around?
DF: Not at all, actually. One of the [great] things is really exploring those events. We know Yoda is powerful, but how does that power develop? How does he use it? In one episode, I really wanted him to be evasive about the ways that the troops are destroyed. So he’s not the one outright attacking most of the time. We get to go into more detail that you just couldn’t do in the live-action films, because they’re mainly focused on Anakin.
I am acutely aware of what happens in Attack of the Clones and what happens in Revenge of the Sith, and I know that any time I go near one of the principal characters, like Obi-Wan or Anakin or Padmé, that we have to pay very careful attention that the story is going to hook up. For the most part, it’s just having a lot of fun and talking to George [Lucas] about what the Jedi were really like.
Can the show run indefinitely, or is it 22 episodes and out?
DF: Well, it won’t be 22 episodes and out for me; we’re already working on the second season. I’m very happy working at Lucasfilm. As long as George lets us keep making more, I’ll do it. I definitely have an arc and a timeline for what I’d like to see happen, and it’s really just a question of, how do I make that work as we get to do more?
Are the episodes all action-packed?
DF: We have many different kinds of episodes. I love the action, but you can’t have clones blasting battle droids in every single episode, so we have to explore other kinds of things and tell different kinds of stories that are different for the Star Wars universe.
I think that’s one of the strengths of it. There are all kinds of episodes for all kinds of fans, and [stories for] everyday [non-fan] people who tune in to watch Star Wars.
So what other kinds of episodes are there?
DF: There are some that are more philosophical, and somewhere Padmé is in the Senate and we deal with a little bit of the politics. We can get a little more into personal stories about some of the characters that don’t just involve shoot-’em-ups. I think that’s what’s got a lot of people so engaged. Everyone knows that in The Empire Strikes Back when Leia says, “I love you,” Han Solo says, “I know.” That’s one of my favourite parts. Forget all the snow-walkers and snow-speeders and all that stuff. They’re great, but fans really love the emotion.
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