How Each Star Wars Trilogy Changed Special Effects Forever | NowThis Nerd

Hey everyone, I’m Andrew and this is what sci-fi movies looked like before ‘Star Wars:’ What will their next move be? And here’s what they looked like after ‘Star Wars’ literally changed the way big-budget movies were made, not just in the ‘70s, but over three very different decades with three very different trilogies

We will crush them once and for all On the eve of ‘The Last Jedi,’ I want to talk about a major breakthrough from every era and explore the Three Times ‘Star Wars’ Changed Visual Effects Forever The original trilogy was the result of decades of evolution in special effects, all unified by a brilliant new technique called Motion Control Individually, we’ve seen the effects used in ‘Star Wars’ before There wasn’t anything groundbreaking about the puppets, masks, and costumes of ‘A New Hope,’ and matte-work and miniatures have been part of cinema since the days of ‘King Kong’ But the advent of motion control brought everything together into a dynamic new package that was a radical shift from the status quo Before ‘Star Wars,’ spaceship scenes involved moving small models through a static shot, and as time went on, sci-fi productions moved towards larger, more complex constructions

Ever see the original Enterprise model at the Smithsonian? It’s bigger than a kitchen table It looks incredible, but you try dangling that thing in front of a camera As a result, space battles were slow and cerebral, like submarines taking potshots at each other, Phasers Fire but the ships in ‘Star Wars’ had to simulate a World War II dogfight in space We matched frame-to-frame on the action in the as close as we could So John Dykstra and the team at ILM flipped the entire equation around Instead of moving the ships in front of the camera, or rear-projecting a starfield behind a giant replica

They used small, relatively static models in front of a blue screen, and swung the camera around them to simulate flight and action Using big ‘70s computers, ILM’s ‘Dykstraflex’ system was able to control every axis of movement on the camera, Hence the term ‘motion control’ More importantly, the programmed behavior could be repeated over and over again with absolute precision Each identical take would create a plate for a different element, with scenes like the trench run involving up to eight different passes The camera had to swing around each fighter in front of a blue screen, then repeat the same motion with the starfield, explosions, and footage of the giant Death Star surface model they built in the parking lot

Then, every plate was combined in an optical printer to create the final shot It was a lot of work, but it’s lightyears beyond what that came before Dykstra and ILM didn’t invent the concept of motion control It was used in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ years before But their refinement of the process was revolutionary

It earned them a well-deserved Oscar, and made every sci-fi movie that came before it look like an Apple Newton next to an iPad Bah! Motion control spread like wildfire, and ILM got better at it with every ‘Star Wars’ movie If you thought the trench run was impressive, can you imagine what it took to pull off Han’s chase through the asteroid belt? And just when it seemed like motion control couldn’t get any better, the CG revolution at the turn of the millennium changed everything Speaking of which 22 years after ‘A New Hope,’ George Lucas returned to the Galaxy far, far away for three polarizing prequels Oh! Icky goo! Say what you will about the quality of the films, but they were some of the first movies that tried to create a fully realized CGI World The key word being 'tried' I’ll always give Lucas credit for being an innovator

He seems genuinely excited to explore the possibilities of new filmmaking tech Specials effect are just a tool, a means of telling a story A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing He said he waited so long to make the prequels because technology hadn’t caught up to his vision yet, but given the results, he could have left it in the oven a little longer Naboo was supposed to be an opulent paradise, but it looked like something out of ‘Myst’ Jar Jar Binks was advertised as the “the first walking, talking, CG film star,” He was also advertised as a horrifying lollipop shaped like his tongue

I mean, who doesn't want to make out with Jar Jar Are you kidding me? Jar Jar never really seems like he’s part of the scene And judging from all the conversations aimed a foot above his head, the performers clearly weren’t used to acting opposite a fully imaginary character What's this? And why would they be? At least in the old days you’d have a puppet to talk to, And yet, just a few years later, the world was blown away by Gollum in ‘Lord of the Rings’ Advances in CG helped, as did Andy Serkis’s motion-captured performance, I hate you! I hate you

but it wouldn’t have been possible without a certain flatulent Gungan 'Scuse me ‘The Phantom Menace’ looks rough today, but that’s just what happens when you’re ahead of your time, The technology improved with each new prequel, and so did the visual effects

Episodes II and III were some of the first movies shot entirely on digital, which let Lucas go even crazier with the CG The real sets gave way to green screens, and formerly practical effects were replaced by computerized creations Not a single physical Clonetrooper helmet was built throughout the trilogy They’re all completely CGI, for better or worse And by the time the prequels wrapped in 2004, so were most Hollywood blockbusters

Once we reached the point where we could render a giant transforming robot peeing on John Tuturro, the only limit left was our imaginations So what could JJ Abrams and the sequel trilogy innovate that hasn’t been done before? It’s actually more what they didn’t do that makes it so special, because the new crop of ‘Star Wars’ films show a shocking amount of Restraint Here’s the thing: JJ

Abrams could have easily plopped some actors in front of a green screen, sat back in his comfy director’s chair, and squeezed out a soulless ‘Star Wars’ sequel stuffed with CGI Instead, he looked back to the practical effects that gave the original series its gritty, worn-down charm No, he didn’t dust off the old Dykstraflex and shoot a bunch of models, but he made a sincere effort to use as many real-world, physical effects as possible, When you see them on the set running out of those transport vehicles It's frightening from gorgeous sets to mind-blowing animatronic creature work Now, ‘The Force Awakens’ is no slouch when it comes to computer effects, either If you have a good enough team doing it, you're able to have it be indistinguishable from what's real The facial capture technology that transformed Lupita Nyong'o into my favorite Golden Girl is extremely impressive, and the battle over Starkiller Base is as intense as anything that went down on Endor

It’s not just the main movies, either Even a Star Wars Story like ‘Rogue One’ managed to bring actors back from the dead with lifelike computer recreations Charming and I’m not talking long shots, the CG models are advanced enough for the camera to get up close and personal, uncanny valley be damned The first time I saw Tarkin in 'Rogue One,' I thought it was just gonna be his reflection

Have him face the window, you see his reflection, then he's hands-off for the rest of the movie, but no Tarkin AND Leia Recreated In CGI My gosh darn mind was blown! But even with the tech at their fingertips, we won’t be seeing a CG Carrie Fisher in ‘Episode IX

’ Remember folks: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should It seems like Lucasfilm has finally learned that CGI works best to augment the story and practical effects, not steal the show The new movies have a unique look that set them apart from your average ‘Transformers’ sequel, with practical effects and selective use of CG creating a visual experience worthy of the ‘Star Wars’ saga And now, other prestigious sci-fi films like ‘Blade Runner: 2049’ are following suit with elaborate miniatures and gorgeous practical sets So far, each ‘Star Wars’ trilogy has been a harbinger of technical innovation in visual effects

‘A New Hope’ brought excitement and action back into sci-fi space battles, You're all clear, kid! Now let's blow this thing and go home! the prequels ushered in the digital era Jar Jar Binks, thank you for that My tongue and ‘The Force Awakens’ has jumpstarted a physical effects renaissance ‘Star Wars’ changed the way blockbuster movies are made And with no end in sight for the franchise, our best look into the future of filmmaking comes from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

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