Doug Chiang: Rogue One‘s design “fills the gaps” between Episodes III and IV

u-wing“[…] ComingSoon.net: Now this was interesting because I know in the prequels, you actually had a little bit of leeway, in the sense that you were so far before the original trilogy that you could kind of come up with some different looks. It was more of an art deco kind of throwback look. But on this one, it’s so close to “A New Hope”. How did you try to keep it contemporary, but also make sure to adhere to that design aesthetic?

Chiang: Yeah, that is a really good question because that’s the question we asked ourselves. We knew “Rogue One” was going to take place right before “Episode IV”. So a majority of our design had to fit seamlessly with “Episode IV”. Their approach was that what percent had to fit. And there’s fewer designs in the sense that you won’t just build the thing. So for instance, like the Yavin hangar. So we saw bits of it in “Episode IV”, but what if George had turned the camera around the other way?

 

And so, what it allowed us was to design something that kind of was heavily influenced by “Episode IV” and stayed true to it, but yet it gave us license to open up and expand the design vocabulary a little bit more, while still kind of fitting in. It was a really great approach for us, because one, we knew that the design had to feel as if we were designing a movie, as if we were designing an alternate version of “Episode IV”. But then, we also knew because the film before, there was going to be a small percentage, maybe 20 percent of new designs, and that was going to give us the excuse to bridge that “Episode III” to “IV”, to kind of have that sort of design history lineage, to make sense of all that.

And that’s one of the great things. When I started working on “Star Wars” George said, “You know, we’re going to try something new that we weren’t going to copy old designs.” And it seems like that was kind of the best thing because the process of designing for “Star Wars” was exactly the same. The only difference was the result. But I got to understand how George approached designs for “Star Wars”. And his approach was, really, he created the designs in our design history so that, you know, there are a lot of visual distinctions. Like, “IV”, “V” and “VI” can be easily anchored in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s designs, and “I”, “II” and “III” are like, in the 20’s and 30’s. And so, when you know that, you can then fill in the gaps, you know how to bridge the non-aesthetics.

And so, for “Rogue One” that was really, one of the things was filling in that 20 percent of new, that could really help kind of build out the universe. The designs that we were creating had to have a reason for existing, because in some ways, a lot of the designs don’t exist after “Episode IV”. And so, we had to figure out, well, if we create something that was too fantastic, you know, well, why did it not work? We knew that they had to fit within that timeline, and we also knew we never saw it after “Rogue One”.

And so, the thinking was that, well, maybe this was an earlier version of the—from a manufacturer of the X-Wing. It’s actually, if we’re thinking about “IV”, “V” and “VI” classic design and sort of functional practical designs, flying design, the prequels were more romantic designs, more handcrafted. The U-Wing kind of had a little bit of that. There were elements that were manufactured, but they were elements that were perhaps, you know, handcrafted. And so, it really was obsolete technologies so that it gave us the excuse to kind bridge that. But then, story line wise, universe wise, there was a reason why.

[…] CS: Right. Now it was interesting because I feel like “Force Awakens” kind of steered away from a lot of the stuff from the prequels, but “Rogue One” actually did incorporate some elements like Coruscant and some of those other things. I know fans are actually very high on the idea of seeing more of the prequels, like integrated within the new movies, to be acknowledged. Do you think that we’ll be seeing more from those earlier eras in the “Star Wars” universe in the new films?

Chiang: Yeah, I would hope so, I mean, because they are a part of the design history of “Star Wars” and we felt very strongly that for “Rogue One”, there should be that bridge. When you reflect on the whole design of “Star Wars”, it actually makes the designs for the specific film even more authentic, and in a really grounded reality, so you’re kind of designing with a long history of design. And that’s what I love about “Star Wars” design, is that it is grounded in history.

There is an actual foundation that underlines everything you’re seeing. The audience may never realize that or appreciate that, but it’s all there and it’s part of the homework that we do, because I think it’s very important and is a key component to creating designs that are timeless. And when you look at “Episode IV”, it’s totally in there, in terms of all designs, in terms of the design history, how things fit, why they’ve evolved, why it makes sense. And what it does is, it creates this very immersive world, where there are a lot of questions and you don’t ask those questions because the world seems like it makes sense. George always describes “Star Wars” as like a foreign film, that when you look at a foreign film, there’s so many exotic things in the background, but yet, they’re all just background material. But yet, if you go into it, every piece fits, and that’s what we’re doing for “Star Wars” is we do months of homework in terms of figuring out designing the world itself. And then, ultimately, when it’s presented in the cinema, very little of it is explained, but there is an inherent perfect feeling that you get that it all makes sense because it really does.

Read the whole interview at ComingSoon.net.

Doug Chiang was design director on The Phantom Menace, concept design supervisor on Attack of The Clones, concept artist on The Force Awakens and production designer on Rogue One.

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