|J.J. ABRAMSTHE FORCESTAR WARS|
Quarantined viewers tuned into Saturday’s all-day, virtual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Summit were treated to a special surprise in the evening when filmmaker and TV titan J.J. Abrams crashed the party as the surprise special guest. He arrived just after his fellow “Star Wars” scribe Tony Gilroy “Rogue One” and the upcoming Cassian Andor series finished his conversation about the craft of screenwriting.
Abrams’ Q&A touched on a range of topics, from the origins of 2015’s “The Force Awakens” to scaling “the mountain,” as he called it, of writing a screenplay, and to the Golden Age of television happening now. It’s an era Abrams helped to launch with his ABC mystery series “Lost.” “I know my role in that. I’m not talking as if I had nothing to do with this,” he said.
“It’s the Golden Age of television, as they call it, even though I don’t know what television really is anymore,” Abrams said. “That’s because huge chances are being taken. Talent that might not have gotten the chance otherwise suddenly have the opportunity. For me, when I watch a show like ‘Atlanta,’ which takes the most spectacular risks in point of view, in genre, structure, and character […] every story has been told, it’s kind of all been done before,” remarking that the FX series tells its stories in unique ways.
Abrams also praised the Emmy-winning Prime Video series “Fleabag,” created by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
“You see ‘Fleabag’ and you’re like, well, yes, the fourth wall has been broken [before], but not like that,” he said, referring to the protagonist’s tendency to face the camera and address the audience. “Yes, there have been amazing love stories, and stories of family, but not like that. What I love is the thing that makes you feel like, ‘Oh my god, this is so amazingly specific.'”
Abrams pivoted to discussing Hollywood’s place in a moment dominated by streaming content with originality that far exceeds what’s being reproduced on the big screen. “Hollywood used to be a place where something would happen, there’d be a movie where people would see it and think ‘Oh my god, that’s amazing. Here’s my answer to that,’ or ‘here’s my version,'” he said.
“Hollywood has become a place where, for the most part, studios say, ‘Oh my god, that’s amazing. Let’s do that literally again.’ And that’s OK, and I think that will continue, but I really hope that all the writers who are here and others in the guild are as excited as I am about this new opportunity with streaming platforms. How many different stories are going to be...
A former MythBuster has crafted an animatronic Baby Yoda that will tour children's hospitals to cheer up kids — and potentially bring balance to the Force.
Grant Imahara, a longtime robotics expert on “MythBusters,” recently completed an animatronic of “The Mandalorian” Season 1's breakout character and unofficial mascot of the 2019 fall television season. The resemblance to the little green character, whose official name is The Child, is uncanny: There's the little brown robe, big green ears, and tuffs of wispy white hair. The creature also boasts the same cute movements that helped Baby Yoda make for some of yesteryear's most viral TV moments.
CNET interviewed Imahara, who currently works as a consultant for Disney Research and as a mechanical designer at Spectral Motion, about the animatronic and its complicated design process in an article published Monday morning. Imahara began building the animatronic by crafting a digital model before creating mechanical systems for the eyes. While a variety of mechanical factors went into the design, Imahara used 3D printing, rather than machining parts, which significantly expedited the process.
While digital modeling and 3D printing made for an easier project, Imahara still had to invest significant time into programming the animation and handling the animatronic's small head, where most of its levers and servos are located. Imahara also discussed crafting the animatronic mouth flap, so it could convey convincing emotions, and added that his Baby Yoda's giant floppy ears made for one of the process' trickiest steps.
“I opted for a simple mouth flap so I could make sure that was capable of doing his signature 'pouty mouth' movement,” Imahara told CNET. “The mechanism that took the longest was the ears. They’re huge levers and the silicone skin acts as a spring, resisting movement, so I upgraded these servos several times, adding more and more torque and size until everything moved smoothly. In the end, the struggle with the ears was totally worth it. They help convey so much.”
Imahara, like countless other “Star Wars” fans, was immediately enamored with Baby Yoda when the creature popped up early in the popular Disney+ “Star Wars” show. By the series' third episode—by that time Baby Yoda had already used the Force to lift a giant alien, got handed off to and subsequently rescued from a villainous Werner Herzog, and met a handful of skeevy Jawas—Imahara was thoroughly convinced the creature had clear animatronic potential.
“After the third episode of 'The Mandalorian,' I knew I had to make my own Baby Yoda,” Imahara told CNET. “I was an animatronics engineer in the ILM model shop before 'MythBusters,' and worked on...
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...