George Lucas (Literally) Couldn’t Afford Mistakes In The Original Star Wars’ Special Effects

I remember watching “A New Hope” on television as a kid and noticing what looked like faint boxes around the tie fighters in one scene. I was so excited by the idea that I could figure out what was an effect and what was real. I was very little at the time, and I know that you’re not supposed to notice, but this was a whole new world for me. Lucas spoke about the way it all worked in the first two “Star Wars” films, saying that they “carried the kinetic energy from ‘Episode IV’ to ‘Episode V,’ where you could pan with things, things would move fast, and you get a more naturalistic feel to the movie.” He explained that, for both films, they did animations for the battle scenes with stick figures and called it “some of the very early forms of pre-vis,” or pre-visualization. Mapping out the sequences, even with stick figures, saved the production money. Lucas said:

“The only way we could do the movie and get it done for the price was to use as few frames as possible on each visual effect shot, which meant if I had a shot that ran 32 frames, they would give me 36 frames, a couple clean frames on either side.”

Taking this down to individual frames is mind-boggling when you think about what is possible now with visual effects. CGI, working in the volume — which puts screens around the actors, allowing them to see the director’s vision — and computer programs that facilitate all of this. None of that existed back then. It was also, as Lucas says, incredibly expensive to do even what they had available to them. 

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