3 top animation tips from the Star Wars Rebels team

Star Wars Rebels series

The opening scene of Star Wars Rebels, sets the TV show's tone: a return to '77

Ezra Bridger stands beneath a low-flying Imperial Destroyer. As it rumbles by overhead, the warship casts a long shadow over the young rebel. This, the opening scene of Star Wars Rebels, sets the tone for the whole series: a return to the look and feel of the franchise’s original 1977 film.

The team behind the new animated TV show – currently airing on US channel Disney XD – says Ralph McQuarrie's original trilogy concept art was a big stylistic influence. In a key frame created especially for 3D World, Lucasfilm came up with an image that captures the essence of the show, Ezra's journey from teenage thief to hero.

"The posing," animation supervisor Keith Kellogg says, "is accomplished using the tried and true method of contrapposto – which makes characters look heroic, rather than bland cutouts. Ezra staring out into the vast beyond highlights the hero's journey he is about to embark upon. Kanan, the mentor – slightly behind but still beside Ezra – represents the help that Ezra will receive.

"The Star Destroyer was put in to show the approaching darkness and struggle that the characters would need to overcome. We added in the Ghost swooping in overhead to help sell the existence of the other characters on the show.”

Developing the render


The image began with a quick sketch, which executive producer Dave Filoni created. Senior designer Chris Voy worked on the lighting concept in Photoshop: "McQuarrie’s work has been a huge influence on the art of the show, so we referenced his palette here by picking vivid complimentary colours for the light and shadow sides of the characters. We tried to delineate rim light but kept shadows nice and soft. I painted a few variations so we could get some ideas worked out before settling on the final version to light."

In Maya, Keith used Dave's sketch to position the camera and the characters. VFX/CG supervisor Joel Aron then took the scene and set up lighting to match the look of Chris's work.

"Once I was close to complete with the set, vehicles and characters, I assembled each layer in Photoshop where I dialled in final colour-looks and paint-retouching," Joel says. "Chris then went in on top of my final renders and did further cleanup to the sky and the characters. I took the complete image and sweetened it – as we do with the production shots – a final colour grade that pushes the contrast and tone. Lastly, I added the edge treatment and film grain, processes that are identical to our final shot look for the show."

Here, Lucasfilm's Keith Kellogg share some top animation tips:

01. Look to real life

Observe everything going on around you. Study the differences between how people stand and move. How they think before they act. Notice all the little subtle details in a simple motion. Once you can internalise how people and creatures move and react, only then can you begin to replicate it.

kanan jarrus

02. Masters at work

Study the masters. Look at Da Vinci's sculptures, and Muybridge’s film studies. Incorporating their poses and the way the body moves into whatever you are working on. Read the amazing book The Illusion of Life – once every year. In my mind that truly is the animator’s bible.

03. Gesture & motion

Remember, animation is the exaggeration of motion. You cannot begin to exaggerate motion until you understand the physical reality behind motion and gesture. Really become a student of motion and acting. Look at everything, take in all the different drawing and animation styles. Find the aesthetic that you prefer and strive to create it, but never discount the others.

Words: Ian Dean

Keith Kellog is the animation supervisor of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Chris Voy is a senior designer on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Joel Aron is a VFX and CG supervisor who specialises in the field of lighting and FX. This article appeared in 3D World issue 189.

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