George Lucas Meets the Press For Animated 'Clone Wars'

Image from the animated 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' feature film, opening August 15th

The mere attendance of George Lucas at a Monday morning press event for Star Wars: The Clone Wars — the new CGI-animated feature film opening August 15th — was viewed by the many of the reporters in attendance with as much interest as in the film itself.

After all, it’s been more than thirty years since Lucas released his first Star Wars film. In that time his complex relationship with the sweeping space epic he created has taken many forms: he produced all six films, wrote their stories, and directed four of them, including the 1977 original and the prequel trilogy of 1999’s The Phantom Menace and its follow-ups, 2002’s Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. And although Star Wars has been undeniably profitable for Lucas, more than a few men would probably choose being digested by a Sarlacc to spending three full decades of their life steering a story — and a cottage industry — between the rocky shoals of creative innovation and fanboy appeasement.

But Lucas continues to keep a firm grip on his franchise, despite Star Wars: The Clone Wars being the first Star Wars film not directed by Lucas to appear on the silver screen since 1983. During Monday's press conference, asked what kind of entertainment industry exists in the Star Wars universe, the silver-haired filmmaker confidently replied, “You won’t see the entertainment industry until we get to the live-action TV show, several years down the road.”

That question, like the majority of reporter's questions in the brief thirty-minute press conference, was directed at Lucas, who appeared relaxed and expressive. Seated next to director Dave Filoni and producer Catherine Winder, Lucas held forth on topics ranging from the art of animation to the realities of television production. Explained Lucas: “I’m trying to take Star Wars — which is a $50 million an hour adventure — and do it for two million for television, without a noticeable gap in quality, and that’s a real challenge.”

A feature film wasn't a part of the original Clone Wars plan, but sprang from Lucas’ satisfaction with how his team met the production challenge. The film bridges the gap story-wise in the Star Wars universe between "Episode 2" Clones and "Episode 3" Sith and serves as an introduction to the upcoming animated Clone Wars television series that will air on Cartoon Network beginning this fall.

“We ended up doing the [animated] TV series, the first few shots came back, and I looked at it on the big screen, and it came back so much better than I had ever planned," recalled Lucas. "I said, ‘We should do this is a feature. This deserves to be on the big screen.’ And it seemed like a good way to introduce, Asoka, Anakin [Skywalker’s] apprentice, who plays a big part in the TV series.”

Although Lucas occasionally discussed the appeals of the story and the scope of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, not surprisingly it was this focus on the technical challenges and how it shapes the creative experience to which Lucas returned again and again.

Speaking at length about the film's non-photorealistic animated style, the filmmaker explained, "photorealistic is what movies are. Animation is an art"

"And to be philosophical about it, you either like photorealistic art, that’s something you want to hang in the Museum of Modern Art, or you like something that actually tries to find the truth behind the realism through design and exaggeration," he continued. "Animation is an art that’s all about design, that’s all about style. Movies are photorealistic — all my movies have been photorealistic, even when they’ve had animation, but animation is very different. And what we tried to do with this is not make animation that looks photorealistic — which is what 3-D animation always seems to be striving for, to look more like reality — but make 3-D animation that takes animation in new direction.

Director Dave Filoni expanded on that idea.

"I came from a 2-D animated background, where we use design and shape and color all the time," he explained. "I wanted to apply that thinking to 3-D features, and George did, too. We talked a lot about sculpting with light and shadow. And I thought by having artists hand paint textures over the [computer animated] characters, it would keep the spontaneity, a little bit of 'painter-liness', the experience that you can get where something isn’t quite perfect but that improves the emotional reaction. And it kind of came together with this new technology we’re using.”

“Art is a technological medium,” Lucas mused. “That’s all art is. Your artistic choices are dictated by the amount of resources allocated to you. If you’re a pharaoh, you can build pyramids. If you’re a shaman, you have some colored chalk and a wall.”

Although he didn’t extend the analogy, it wasn’t hard to understand after walking the grounds at Big Rock Ranch, the home for Lucas’s animation division: George Lucas wants to be both pharaoh and shaman with his art, the builder of the pyramids that last, and the shaper of dreams that inspire. It is how these twin poles of his aspiration conflict and mesh that continue to make Lucas a compelling figure, as much a creation of his own mythology as Yoda or Darth Vader.

To the extent Lucas is aware of his place and stature within that mythos, he uses it as he seems to use much of what he has — pragmatically.

“Most animated features cast big voice actors because it helps build publicity for the film,” Lucas said. “The actors aren’t paid nearly as much for their voice work, as they are to show up and talk to the press, to lure people’s attention to the film. And as much as I love you guys, I don’t think I need to bring Angelina Jolie here to have you turn up for this. I think you guys will come and if you love it, you’ll let me know. But I don’t think I need a big star to have turn out.”

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