You already know we are huge Star Wars fans, but what I’m writing about today goes far beyond what we think we see on the big screen. The creativity and imagination that went into creating those original Star Wars films is unmatched by anything else I’ve ever read about. It was a magical time in film-making history, and the fans are as loyal today as ever. Recently those now legendary model makers revealed some of the secrets for how they made those movie props.
Those Star Wars model makers got together at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire to talk about how they created professional models and props for those movies back in the day. Jamie and Adam at Tested.com wrote an in-depth summary of all the tips, tricks and secrets they revealed in an article called ILM Model Makers Share Star Wars Stories and Secrets. It’s the best Star Wars blog post I’ve read in a while, and if you’re a Star Wars geek, I hope you click over to read it for yourself.
I’ve taken a few juicy nuggets from that article to share with you here today. The most inspiring thing about this is that those model makers from back in the day used what seems like limitless creativity to get those scenes just right. For example, did you know that Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber had windshield wipers stuck to it to make a grip?
According to Sean House, a modern day prop maker, there is an air of realism in those original Star Wars movies that’s grounded in reality. He said, “I think that’s what made the Star Wars universe work, because people could sorta kinda recognize these things even if they didn’t know what they were.”
I’ve watched those Star Wars movies too many times to count throughout my lifetime, and I had no idea this is how some of that stuff was made. Please click over to Tested.com’s original article so you can read much more about this than what I’ve shared here. It’s fascinating!
Fascinating Ways The Original Model Makers Created Props
The model makers back in those days didn’t rely only on CG. Instead, they had to learn to see things ‘differently’ and then recreate it. Michael Lynch was especially talented at this. He needed to create a huge crowd for the Mos Espa arena (an arena on Tatooine – which is the home of Anakin Skywalker). When you think about it, when you look at a crowd, you don’t see people – you just see shapes and colors.
Long story short, he used 450,000 q-tips to create the crowd. He even researched ‘crowd colors’ so he would know how many yellow, red, blue, green, etc. q-tips there should be. They colored the q-tips, poked the sticks into the stadium, and then blew a fan underneath the arena so each q-tip moved a little bit. That way, it looked like people in the arena were moving.
The model makers decided that candy sprinkles (like what you’d put on a birthday cake) were just the right scale to be the flowers in Theed City (the capital city of planet Naboo). During shooting, ants got into the sprinkles and started carrying them away. So, while watching that movie, you might notice less and less flowers (since the ants took them).
Back in the ’70s when the model makers were creating Princess Leia’s ship (below), super glue was not commonly used. They used to use five minute epoxy and masking tape to do the simple things that we would use super glue for these days. One day, legendary model maker Lorne Peterson decided to try the stuff called ‘super glue.’ It was a huge success, and model makers have been using it ever since.
It was always the plan that Greedo would talk and his mouth would move, but right before shooting, the mechanism in his mouth that was supposed to make it move broke. Someone quickly looked around, grabbed a spring-loaded clothespin that was laying there and hot-glued it in Greedo’s mouth. That is how the model makers improvised at the last minute so Greedo could talk with a moving mouth.
The talented model makers in those days could find a way to use just about anything to get a scene just right. For example, in The Empire Strikes back, Ken Rolston (the Director of Photography) put an Idaho potato in the asteroid belt.
They needed another ship in the final battle on Return of the Jedi, so for that one, Ken took off his gym shoe and used it. One of the ships in that scene is his sneaker.
Charlie Bailey even revealed that when he was creating the rocket engines for the white Star Destroyer, he just went to the hardware store to find what he needed. Charlie also mentioned that he used different size soup ladles to create the domes on E.T.’s spaceship.
One of the things the model makers had to learn how to do before shooting Star Wars was how to make the ships look old. According to Charles Bailey, they had to come up with an aging process “so the rebels all look like they have junkers.” As a result, the robots and the ships looked old.
One of the ways they created flying debris was to put different shaped pasta in a blender, grind it up, and then paint it different colors. Once the model is filled with pasta, and then it ‘blows up’ during the scene, the pasta flies out of it (which looks like flying debris).