Homing Beacon Features Droid Factory

by malducin

The latest issue of the Star Wars newsletter covers how the droid factory in Geonosis was accomplished. VFX Supervisor Ben Snow explains how the concept for the factory developed.

Here it is:

A late addition to the postproduction of Episode II was the elaborate Geonosian droid factory set piece, which was conceived, scripted, previsualized and shot months after principal photography had wrapped. Visual Effects Supervisor Ben Snow and his unit tackled the eleventh hour action sequence.

"We used a combination of computer graphics and miniature work for the environment," says Snow. "Since everything in the factory is moving and interacting, we made a lot of it in computer graphics so we can deal with the complexity and the interaction."

The rust-hued smoke-belching clamor of the factory was a perfect showcase for the signature "used universe" feel of Star Wars. "To get a realistic grime and gritty feel, we enhanced our shots with CG and real smoke, sparks and pyrotechnical elements," says Snow. "To make the sequence tense and scary, we wanted to push for a realistic feel."

To that end, Snow took a crew of computer graphic artists and model-makers to a real automobile factory in the San Francisco Bay Area. "We looked at all these machines in action and try to get a good feel for it," he says. "One of the daunting things is just how much complexity there is in this real factory, and trying to reproduce that in computer graphics and visual effects is a bit overwhelming. But you're trying to convey an impression of it rather than having to get every bit of grime in there."

Even the car factory was judged too austere. "We decided we needed to take the team somewhere a bit nastier," says Snow. "We visited a foundry in the East Bay, and this was paydirt as far as I was concerned. Dark, and dirty, and old, I think it really defined the look we were going for. It had the texture and the sulfuric industrial smell that we wanted to try to evoke in our work. We took a bunch of photographs that we used as texture reference when painting our CG models and miniatures. It's really important to have good reference. It keeps us honest, particularly if we're doing a largely computer graphic scene."

The final factory environment was created using a combination of computer-generated elements and miniatures, with bluescreen plate photography of the actors properly aligned into the virtual surroundings. Helping add to the realism of the finished shots was a sense of purpose to the enveloping chaos.

"In a lot of the shots the machines could just be whirling around threateningly, but I thought it would make the sequence more exciting to see that the machines were actually building things," says Snow. "One of the things I did was to sit down and try to work out what each conveyer belt was doing, and made little maps showing the manufacturing process for the animators and artists on the sequence."