Friday, 1 April 2011

118: D is for Delegation

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

This entry takes place directly after C is for Cockney. Chronologically, alphabetically, in every sense.

Ealing Studios, London. 6th April 2001.
Before I get to detailing the conveyor belt properly, I'll finish what I was saying previously about Christopher Lee. In the afternoon, we'd all had lunch, and I was a little calmer (other than being wired on caffeine)...

Lee, dressed as Count Dooku / Darth Tyranus, stood on a static conveyor belt, the cameras facing him at an upward angle from below (to capture Yoda's point of view), surrounded by blue-screens.

A few defensive swings of his curve-handled lightsaber, then he stops and looks down at the diminutive Jedi Master, his old teacher...

"Oh, the battle is far from over... this is just the beginning!"

Dooku looks up to the roof of the hangar they're standing in and makes a gesture with his hand...

And cut.

This was a pick-up shot for after the saber battle, when Dooku brings the hangar ceiling apparatus down onto the Jedi, and Yoda is forced to save them while the Count flees. It was supposed to be a quick shot. In the film, it is a quick shot. I lost count of how many times it was filmed.

There was nothing 'wrong' with Lee's performance that anyone could see, George Lucas wasn't rude or discourteous about re-taking it again and again, and Christopher Lee's professionalism kept him subtly changing it each time, as requested. But the poor old bugger was knackered by the time George approved the final take! He was physically shaking, bless him.

This is probably standard (the number of takes, not making an old man shake), but the key part of the take was the transition between swinging the saber, and beginning the line. In the finished film, it cuts straight to Dooku saying "...this is just the beginning!", so most of that work turned out to be for the cutting room floor (digitally speaking). Still, I got to watch a master at work for an hour or so.

C-3PO & R2-D2, on the lot at Ealing Studios, April 2001. Photo courtesy of @ReedyP. Click for bigger.

Meanwhile - Erm, earlier that day...

So, there was a big conveyor belt. Raised about 2 feet from the floor, about 12 feet deep and 60 feet long. The control-panel for this was very simple. A master on/off power button, and a dial which controls the speed from off-to-maximum. Primarily, the belt was used for the conveyor sequence in the Geonosis Droid Factory (with most things being bluescreened in apart from the actors and basic props). But it was also used for tracking shots in the Arena, and as a static soundstage for shots in the afternoon.

The main shot of the morning was Anakin being dragged along on a chain by the Reek. The conveyor was used so that you can get a shot containing steady movement, but from a static camera. The idea was very simple and was explained by a chap called Nick, who I seem to recall was the production supervisor for the day*...

Nick: "Hi guys, you are..?"
BFF: "Paul."
Me: "Ian."
Nick: "Okay, Ian. Here's the idea. There's a large creature at the other end of the conveyor, where we've hooked the chain to a post. On my mark, I want you to start the conveyor and turn it up to 4. The creature will be dragging Anakin through the dirt, and he's going to use the Force to slow it down. Watch him carefully, and when we waves his hand at the post, bring the conveyor to a standstill over about two to three seconds, as if the creature's slowing down. Can you do that for me, Ian?"
Me: "...yes."
Nick: "Great, thanks..." *Nick proceeds to wander off and organise something else*

…What I didn't say was:
Me: Hang on just a minute. I'm here to watch. He's the machine operator here. He was here last week. I'm his assistant. I'm fairly nervous, and if I mess this up, I could potentially ruin the day’s shooting and delay the release of the film, even though that's over a year away. Do you have any idea what that would mean to me? Knowing I've ruined the day of the people I admire professionally the most in the world, and having deprived fellow geeks of the new Star Wars film for God knows how long, just because you assumed that I know what I'm doing here? I have no clue what I’m doing here! Get him to do it."

But obviously, I didn't say that. I said "yes", then delegated the task to Paul. For the reasons I've stated just there.

My best buddy in the whole wide world made it happen. It worked well enough, as it should have, and the shot was approved. Although, if I'm being honest, there's little indication in the film that the Reek is slowing down due to anything Anakin's doing. Combined with the rest of the action at that point, it just sort of happens. But I was there when it did.

I would dearly love to tell you that I personally contributed to this small piece of Star Wars canon. But that'd be a lie. I didn't want to mess up, so I stood back and let a trained (okay, experienced) technician turn the dial. I'm not ashamed, and I'm not regretful.

Various other shots were taken that day. Mainly reaction shots from the principal cast members, and all for the arena/hangar sequence since that’s what everyone was wardrobed up for.

It’s since been pointed out to me what a ‘dream come true’ day it was. I think I took it more or less in my stride because I knew it could go belly-up at any moment, before or during. But it didn’t.

Did I mention that George Lucas said hello to me on his way to the toilet?

* I could be wrong about Nick. He may have been the stunt co-ordinator. But it wasn't Nick Gillard, because I know who he is, and this wasn't him.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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