J. W. Rinzler says Attack of the Clones was one of the last productions where ILM ideas were “free to flow”

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From J. W. Rinzler Blog:

“My behind-the-scenes work included going down to Industrial Lights & Magic for the visual effects dailies, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Lucas had already wrapped principal photography on Episode II and was in the midst of postproduction. ILM was deep into about a two thousand shots. The trickiest involved a climactic duel between Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Yoda, who was going to be digitally animated for the first time instead of being puppeteered by Frank Oz (who would still supply the voice).
Their fight looked iffy. My first day at Lucasfilm I’d been given a VHS tape of the rough cut to watch on a small TV—please note: this was my first day, but they shared what is often jealously guarded on film productions—a complete view of a work-in-progress. When the story got to the Yoda/Dooku confrontation, all I could see was a tiny wisp of a creature darting and cartwheeling around a old man flailing with a lightsaber. Everyone, even animation director Rob Coleman, was a little worried about it.
But on my first visits to ILM, the atmosphere was relaxed, congenial, the place I’d seen in the pages of Thomas G. Smith’s book come to life. As hundreds if not thousands of online and magazine articles have observed, ILM did not advertise itself; there was no sign outside. Instead, its modest entrance was hidden behind a plain glass office door with “Kerner Optical” marked on it. If it had been otherwise, there would have been an endless flow of fans, visual effects aficionados, and cinéphiles on pilgrimage trying to get in.
Rick McCallum had suggested I give John Knoll a call. John was one of the visual effects supervisors (vfx supes) on the Prequel Trilogy, with a deep voice and goatee, an analytical view of life, and an abiding, deep respect for all aspects of the facility and its history. […]
John was touring me around the 2001 iteration of the model shop, where men and women were painting, sawing, hammering, sculpting, and using machines I’d never seen before. We walked through one studio after another, once through a “door” freshly knocked through a wall with sledgehammers.
“ILM is kind of like a rabbit warren,” John explained.
The facility’s sprawl took up several buildings, about a whole block’s worth, and it was always being re-routed, expanding and collapsing with the needs of new “shows” and changing technology.
The most radical recent development had been the gradual, then sudden emergence of digital effects. Lucas had championed them, bankrolling advances at ILM as he had at Sky Sound, since founding The Computer Division in 1979. That day, I saw glimpses of their digital pipeline while walking past folks at computers rigging animated aliens and far-out creatures. On the walls and hanging from the ceilings were remnants of previous films: an E.T., the starship Enterprise, model cars from Men In Black, a dragon, a wampa, a miniature DeLorean. I could have spent the whole day there and not seen half of it. […]
The whole place was informal. Studio areas were plastered with in-jokes, drawings and more drawings, funny signs, sculpts, photos, and souvenirs from old scale-model sets. There was also an underlying current of stress. It was intense work, and deadlines and money were always tight. Yet it wasn’t a public company. Ultimately ILM answered only to Lucas. So the different currents merged and overlapped, and vied for attention, but the people I met were in good spirits. Many had been there for a long time, such as model shop supervisor Lorne Peterson, a bearded, wavy-haired giant, who was almost deaf in one ear. […]
“ILM is like a miniature Florence during the Renaissance,” Peterson told me, confirming what I’d felt years before.
After taking in the sights—notably, the Howard Anderson Optical Printer, a relic of the facility’s celluloid years—on the way to the theater in “C” building, adjacent to the soundstage, John joined McCallum, Rob Coleman, Tiemens, Church, vfx supes Pablo Helman and Ben Snow, and others who always attended dailies, sitting near or around Lucas. A few of the core group had known each other for quite a while and had made many breakthroughs together. They would attend each other’s weddings and significant birthday parties. A few were part of the original team that had changed the cinematic world and then some.
I sat nearby so I could hear what they were saying and do my job of reporting for an in-progress book I was editing. At the foot of the stadium seating, in a corner near the screen, an R2 unit had been placed next to a totem-pole–like listing of movies for which ILM had been nominated or received an Oscar, from Star Wars at the bottom, rising through Raiders of the Lost Ark and Terminator 2: Judgment Day up to 2001’s nominees, Pearl Harbor and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence—around 20 in all.
Dailies might include a couple dozen or more shots that Lucas would either approve or alter, not taking more than 30 to 45 minutes. A digital shot of Yoda, with his hair unattached to his head, made people laugh. But Yoda’s fight shots with Dooku were slowly improving.
Seeing white-armored ghost-like troopers advancing through a multicolored haze of lazer fire, Lucas said enthusiastically, “Now that’s the Clone Wars!”
Looking back and knowing more now, I can say that I was viewing the tail-end of a long tradition in which ideas were relatively free to flow. The atmosphere in 2001–02 was more uptight than in 1976, but still functional. Knoll or Muren or nearly anyone in the theater could offer up ideas or critiques. If it was going to slow down the process, or cost more money, they’d be at risk from McCallum, but people weren’t overly shy, and Lucas listened. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me. (In all these observations, the rule of Rashomon is in play… And note: Rick would tell me that he’d found ILM, back in the 1990s, to be mired in tradition, and that he’d had a difficult time pushing through Lucas’s digital agenda, etc. Conversely, I got the feeling that some ILM folks resented Rick’s forays into their areas of expertise as well—but that’s a subject for those who were in the trenches.)”


J. W. Rinzler used to be a writer and editor at Lucas Licensing. He wrote The Making of Star Wars Revenge of the SithThe Art of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the SithThe Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original FilmThe Making of The Empire Strikes BackThe Making of Return of the Jedi, and also the comic mini-series The Star Wars and two episodes of The Clone Wars.

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