ILM legend Thomas G. Smith on the making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

ILM’s general manager, Smith, who worked with George Lucas in the early to mid-’80s, reflects on the frenzy and the fate of the memorable Easter egg.

It may be hard to believe, but some of the benefits came from the Empire’s second Death Star.

to Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Industrial Light & Magic The new technology created a huge model of the terror’s surface — „twice the size of a tennis court,” noted ILM general manager Thomas G. Smith tells StarWars.com — and it was too big to save after filming. At the behest of George Lucas, he routinely stored and preserved each model Star Wars Movies, it should be trashed. So Smith and some ILM guys took apart the model, rented some trucks, and drove the pieces to the nearest junkyard. But someone really wanted to save the Death Star.

„My son was working a summer job there and saw all these pieces going into the trash, and he thought, 'No, no, no,'” Smith says. „’Some of that stuff looks good!'” Smith’s son saved a box for himself and kept it for years — eventually putting it to good use, ironically.

„Then I told him, he’s an idiot. 'Get rid of them! It’s rubbish, throw it away!’ And when his daughter went to college, he was able to cover part of her college expenses by selling these pieces of the broken Death Star.

Smith laughs recounting the story to StarWars.com in a conversation celebrating the 40th anniversary. Return of the Jedi. His journey Star Wars He started at Northwestern University, where he graduated in 1960 with a degree in film, followed by a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Film in Paris. After a three-year stint in the US Air Force, he joined Encyclopaedia Britannica, where he produced more than 60 educational films, including the 1977 The Solar System, an innovative work that won several awards and impressed George Lucas. Lucas hired Smith to join ILM during production Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back In 1979; in time Return of the Jedi, Smith was appointed general manager overseeing all visual effects. „We had 300 employees, and I was responsible for all the things a general manager does,” Smith says. „Make sure all the work gets done, assign who did what, deal with the union and ease their concerns with the filmmakers.”

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Originally the final film Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi Over 900 effects shots will be larger than anything Smith has previously engaged in. “Nine hundred shots is a hell of a job. Each shot consisted of an average of five components. That means, you know, about 4,000 camera systems,” Smith says. „Well, I know it’s a real challenge, but I know we can do it. If we can’t do it, we’ll try something else.

An example of the latter protocol would be the iconic Rancor series. The original idea was to shoot an actor in a suit, Ranger Godzilla style. When the results were poor, the idea of ​​using a stick doll came up. „We knew it was going to be difficult from the beginning, but Bill Tippett had a hand in it,” he says. „Bill had tremendous patience.”

Smith Tippett and ILM’s other wizards, all of particular talent, feat JediAmazing effects of „I made documentaries from the time I was 25 until I came to ILM, so I understood everything. We would sit at the conference table and discuss these things, how they were done, who would do them, and so on. But the people there were very talented and didn’t need any great advice from me, because They were very good. Everyone was talented in some field. Dennis Murren was a great cinematographer, lighting designer, visualiser. He shot the effects. ET It’s that kind of sensitivity. Richard Edlund is a genius at designing mechanical things. He could make drawings that he would go to a machine shop and they would do it. He built one of our cameras PoltergeistAt the same time Denise was doing it ET. You can see the difference of a different mind at work. Ken Ralston was a great animator, as was Bill Tippett. So, they all understood very well what they were doing. However, as a general manager, Smith notes that he sometimes has to be the mediator when tensions flare, even among friends. To that end, he had his own special effects trick, just like that: When he ran the ILM morning meeting, there was a rule.

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„Come to my office, but no one can sit down. This makes the meeting short. No one is comfortable.

Smith recalls meeting director Richard Marquand only once. “I met Richard Marquand when I came for a job interview. George interviewed him in my office and I met him. He is a very good fellow. „I was sitting there during the job interview, you know,” Smith says with a laugh. „But he’s a really nice guy.” Marquand, Smith says, was involved in casting and photography, Lucas, on the other hand. Guy was heavily involved in effects. Star Wars Creator stop by to see what ILM is up to? „Every day. The editing room was a hundred yards from ILM. We had a big industrial building that was ours, and then there was a driveway. And there was another building across the road. Inside that building was where George was. So, Every morning we’d get our dailies — the work from the day before — and we’d get this screening. George would come in, sit and watch it, comment on everything he saw, and then sometimes take a walk to see something that we had some questions about. Generally speaking, he Often accepted the scenes more than we did. The cinematographer would say, 'Oh, I got one little thing wrong there. George would say, 'They’ll never see it,’ or 'Put it down to look good, and we’ll do it eventually if we have time.’ Well, we don’t have time.

Still, despite time and budget constraints, Smith and ILM created the classic effects sequence. Return of the Jedi, featuring more — and faster — ships than ever before, including the Rancor, a speeder bike chase, and the climactic attack on the second Death Star. “There were scenes where there was a huge number of spaceships in one shot. Each spacecraft was a unique model,” says Smith. „I have to remind people who work digitally now that everything is physical.”

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A famous easter egg in Final Space Battle is that one of the combatants isn’t a ship — it’s a sneaker owned by visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston. When producer Howard Kazanjian asked if he could have a sample from the line, Smith knew only to send him one. „’Sure. Here.’ So we got a nice plastic box and a plate and put the shoe in it.

Forty years later, Smith is proud Jedi, based on its visual effects and its place in the original trilogy. „I think it’s an important one Star Wars A series of films. George lost me when he delved into digital creatures. Maybe it’s because I’m old. But for me, the top three Star Wars Movies are treasure.

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