Tuesday 29 May 2018

Return Of The Jedi: Models, Matte Paintings & A Big Set

This week marks the 35th anniversary of Return Of The Jedi and, although I've already written a retrospective on the film (at 30, which you can read here), I wanted to do something to mark the milestone.  As regular readers of the blog will know, I'm endlessly fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process on films, especially special effects work with miniatures and/or matte paintings and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to indulge in a little bit more by taking one item - the Imperial Shuttle - and showing how all of these various disciplines can combine to visually sell the story...
Vader's shuttle, en route to the Death Star
Return Of The Jedi, a Lucasfilm Ltd production, opened in the UK on 2nd June 1983.  It was directed by Richard Marquand, produced by Howard Kazanjian, Robert Watts & Jim Bloom and written by Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas (from a story by Lucas).  Alan Hume was the director of photography, Norman Reynolds was the production designer, John Williams composed the music and Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren and Ken Ralston supervised the special effects.  The film was edited by Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas and Duwayne Dunham.

According to Wookieepedia, the "Lambda-class T-4a shuttle, or Imperial Shuttle, was a multi-purpose transport...considered an elegant departure from the standards of brutish Imperial engineering. The shuttles were often used by high-ranking Imperial officers and dignitaries such as Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, but were more commonly found ferrying stormtroopers or cargo."

In real life, the Imperial Shuttle was a combination of full-size prop, miniature and matte painting.

Norman Reynolds was the production designer and his department built a partial, full-size mock-up of the Shuttle - The Tydirium, in this case - which was extended with the use of matte paintings (see below).  The mock-up stayed on the same stage at Elstree Studios, with the Death Star hanger set and then the Rebel Fleet set built around it.
At Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Bill George (standing) and Charlie Bailey begin work on the model (prior to kitbashing).  According to J. W. Rinzler's The Making Of Return Of The Jedi, Bailey "made the bulk of the craft [while] Bill George built the wings."
Bill George paints the wing

Don Dow, effects cameraman at ILM, sets up a shot of the Shuttle
Matte painting by Frank Ordaz - the only "live" elements are the guards in the foreground
Chris Evans' excellent matte painting of the Death Star hanger for Palpatine's arrival.
top image - the painting / bottom image - screengrab
Han Solo: Keep your distance though, Chewie... but don't look like you're trying to keep your distance.  I don't know, fly casual...
The Imperial Shuttle, as it appears in the finished film

I wrote extensively about the various matte paintings in Return Of The Jedi on the occasion of the 30th anniversary and you can read that blog post here

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