Recreating the famous Star Wars Holochess.
When the term reverse engineering crops up, one tends to think of legacy components for automotive, aerospace, or oil & gas applications that require bleeding-edge technology for the most accurate results but there is a new wave of users who require just the principles of the technology for creative pursuits.
One such pursuit was for authenticity by movie director, J.J. Abrams in making the most successful movie of all time, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Though Abrams had the world’s most advanced graphics technology at his fingertips, he was interested in reconnecting with the original trilogy of the 70s and 80s by using the techniques and people that made those movies some of the most beloved in history.
The general consensus about the prequel trilogy decades later was that it was over reliant on CGI and lacked the heft of the physical special FX created by using puppetry, make-up and stop-motion animation. In order to seem like a continuation of the original treasured trilogy Abrams didn’t just pick up with the old cast but a lot of the old crew too, especially for visual effects.
Phil Tippett is something of a legend when it comes to physical special effects, his work on the original Star Wars trilogy won him and his studio accolades and contracts for years to come, Abrams particularly loved a scene from the first Star Wars in which Chewbacca plays a game called Dejarik – a sort of holographic chess – on board the Millennium Falcon that Tippett and co had created using stop-motion animation and puppetry.
Many of the original puppets have since disappeared and creating them from scratch again would have involved painstaking handcraft copying of stills had a spot of hoarding and some hi-tech not come to hand. Tippett Studio contacted the Lucasfilm archive to see if any of the original puppets remained, they managed to track down a gift consisting of four Dejarik characters mounted to a plaque that was presented to George Lucas after the success of Star Wars: A New Hope.
Although George had kept the characters the rubber had disintegrated to the point were they were unusable so the team turned to the principles of reverse engineering. Instead of hiring expensive scanning equipment for precise results the team were more interested in simply the shape and for this a simple DSLR camera and photogrammetry was enough to create a workable digital model.
It was at this point the team turned to San Francisco-based 3D printing service Moddler, who have plenty experience in the creation of Visual FX for Hollywood. “Tippett Studio got in touch will us in May of 2014, about 2 years prior to the release of The Force Awakens” Jared Murnan, Rapid Prototyping Manager tells TCT. “They had determined the optimal way to go about recreating the Holochess scene was by scanning, 3D printing, molding and finally casting.”
Although the reverse engineering represents a tiny step of the painstaking process of stop-motion animation for a relatively tiny scene of nostalgia in the new Star Wars movie, it was essential in recreating that authenticity to which Abrams strived. Whether it is creating thousands of faces for the Oscar nominated stop-motion animation Anomalisa, the suit for Iron Man or a simple prop in thousands of movies 3D scanning and 3D printing have become essential; parts of the movie making business and Hollywood is waking up to the potential of reverse engineering in a big way.
3D Printing service Moddler recreated the Holochess with 3D printing, molding and finally casting.
Recently during a visit to a UK design agency I was allowed to briefly catch a glimpse of some top-secret prop work for an upcoming blockbuster. Although the information is under embargo what I can say is the lengths that were taken for this single prop were quite spectacular, it involved scanning a prehistoric fossil, applying that fossil’s texture to a 3D printable material designed specifically and handcrafting the shape to wrap this rubber like material around. All for one prop.
“The props industry is absolutely in a state of change due to 3Dprinting,” says Moddler’s Jared Munan. “Garage hobbyists, costume designers, VFX houses and world-famous prop masters are implementing 3D into their process. It speeds up the entire workflow significantly and the more 3d printing becomes accessible the more people use it.
“Polyjet technology, like we use at Moddler, is especially great for props as it seamlessly snap fits, sands well, takes paint well, its easy to glue, and most importantly it is fast, has a large build bed and the high surface resolution is undeniable. For prop makers and product designers, The hard part is getting the CAD file, once you have that, printing is easy and will get you 90% of the way to a finished prototype or master for mold making.”