This post has been a long time in the making. Some time around the beginning of February of 2015, we approached the James brothers ( a utah local film crew, and artists) who currently involved with a locally made Star Wars Fan film called “Star Wars: Legacy of the Force”, primarily produced by Tye Nelson and directed by Danny James. We asked if they might have something that we could work on in regards to VFX, and they had something big that needed work on.
A quick thank you to Jacob Thorup and Bryce Thorup for letting me work on this at work, and also for providing critique. Micheal and Heather Buhler for their feedback. And finally Tye Nelson and the James brothers for allowing me to work on this project. Thank you!
(Note, my details about what has happened in the production are very slim, I was third-party primarily, and most of my details come from conversations and emails from both the James brothers and Tye Nelson.)
Be sure to watch the whole film at legacyoftheforcefanfilm.com
At this point in production of the fan film, everything was shot, and basic edits had been put together. This rough cut also featured a rough intro battle sequence which was strictly CG. You can see a what this looked like through this video at the 00:09 second mark, hosted on the creator’s channel. The producers and directors were not completely satisfied by this product, that was produced by another artists, other than myself. Because of this, the James Brothers offered to have me take a shot at it. I said yes.
In case you don’t wish to spend the time to go through the rest of the article, I put together a quick video that goes through a bit of the development process, along with a break down of the final shot.
So began a fun, frustration, enlightening, and enjoyable adventure of the most complicated CG shot I have done to date. I used Blender as my primary tool, and I eventually moved into After Effects for my final compositing.
Based on some notes from the James Brothers I began reworking the current sequence to be something a bit more dynamic and interesting. I started off with just a small piece of artwork produced for the Star Wars official card game, and with some ideas of making it look like the fight was taking place just in upper orbit around a planet.
This is where the first animatic came into play. This was largely shooting from the hip, and I put a little too much effort into the background and lighting, which should have been left for later in the process. I enjoyed this idea, but it wasn’t what the producer was looking for at the end of the day. It was ultimately scrapped.
The second animatic took to the original sequence, and basically mimics it for the most part. I decided to adjust the introduction of the Super Star Destroyer, as I thought a rising from the dark mists would feel a bit more ominous, and letting the viewer take in its vast size would help to maintain the brooding force that it is.
The third animatic is much more refined. If I remember correctly, I had been given source material to work with, and I had already begun creating the environment at based on that material. In essence, the environment was created by one gas giant colliding with another, creating a large mass of debris and material between the remaining two gas giants. These all orbited around a proto-star. The source materials paints a darker environment on the page. I deviated from these details to help created a vast sense of scale with the nebula, and how small all the space craft were in relation to it. This required more light, so I made the star brighter than what is described in the book.
After the movement of the main players in the sequence was locked down, and the animation for the main space craft was finished, I set to work on the actual spacecraft themselves.
The base models were downloaded from scifi3d.com. This site hosts donated models from a ton of different sci-fi universes, and it had everything I needed for the sequence. After getting the models, I spent a good chunk of time cleaning them up in Blender, texturing, and additional modeling, before bringing them into the final scene to replace the proxy models I used for the animatics.
After the models were brought in, simulations for fire/smoke and other debris were done, along with blaster fire. Then came rendering everything out for compositing.
Each render layer was done separately. The x-wings on one layer, the tie fighters on one layer, the planets on one layer, etc… This was to accommodate any possible changes without having to render the whole scene again. The only requirement to this workflow was to make sure that the animation for the camera never changed. This allowed all the separate layers to match move with each other, and if a layer needed changes and rerender, all you needed to do was replace the frames for that single layer in the final composite.
I moved my scene layers over to After Effects to composite there. I was originally planning on compositing completely in Blender, but there was a possibility that I wasn’t going to be able to finish things myself. I needed to move into a program that someone else could use in case I couldn’t finish. This did help speed things up though, as I didn’t have to render motion blur out of Blender (really slow…), as I was able to replace this with a much quicker effect in After Effects called Pixel Motion Blur.
Due to time constraints, and because of the amount of time I had spent on the project, I wasn’t able to add specific post effects like heat distortion. But at this point it is time to move onto other things. Overall the experience was gratifying. I ran into a ton of situations I have not encountered before, and I was able to successfully navigate through them, and learn a host of new things along the way. I have gained a deeper appreciation for the work that goes into a shot like this, and I know why it takes more than one person to pull it off well.