Infinity Gets Rebellious: Bringing Star Wars Rebels Characters to Disney’s Hit Game

In an exclusive interview, Lucasfilm's Hez Chorba and Avalanche Software's Jeff Bunker discuss the making of Star Wars Rebels toys for Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition.

Star Wars toys that come to life in a video game. It’s the stuff of dreams for fans, and it’s now possible thanks to Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition. Last month, it was announced that Jedi, Sith, Corellian smugglers, and Rebel princesses are coming to the next iteration of the popular multi-platform series, which allows players to collect figures, place them on the Disney Infinity base to appear digitally in the game, and play as those same characters. The Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Starter Pack, which includes the Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic Play Set and Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figures, is set for a fall 2015 release and available for preorder now. So far, we’ve seen toys of the saga’s icons (stunning sculpts of Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo, and more in Disney Infinity‘s kinetic style) and gameplay featuring classic locales and vehicles. But for those keeping score, there was a Star Wars Rebels-sized hole in Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition‘s character lineup.

Not anymore — and not ever, actually. Some of the ragtag heroes from Lucasfilm’s hit animated series are also heading to the game as individual, playable characters, it was revealed today.

Star Wars Rebels was decided really early on,” Lucasfilm’s brand creative director Hez Chorba tells StarWars.com. “It’s an important part of the saga and our entire team is proud of the stories being told in the series. That’s when we got to, ‘We need these characters.'” The Star Wars Rebels characters that are making the jump to Disney Infinity action-figure form include Jedi-with-a-secret-past Kanan, Jedi-to-be Ezra, hot-headed alien Zeb, and explosives expert/graffiti artist Sabine. There’s more to adapting them to this line of toys, however, than one might think. A lot more.

Disney Infinity has its own style, Star Wars Rebels has its own style. Other brands and characters featured in Disney Infinity — including the first batch of Star Wars heroes and villains, and greats from Disney, Disney•Pixar, and Marvel — have years and years of stories and reference material. Star Wars Rebels, at the time it was being adapted to Disney Infinity, hadn’t even aired yet. It made this a bit more difficult of a task; more than, say, bringing Harrison Ford’s likeness to the title.

“When we first started thinking about doing the Rebels characters, I had heard about the series, but I hadn’t seen anything yet,” says Jeff Bunker, vice president of art development for Disney Infinity at Avalanche Software and, for all intents and purposes, the father of the game. “Lucasfilm provided us quite a bit of early concepts and early episodes for us to watch, and we ate it up. We watched everything we possibly could to see if we could understand their characters, because that’s critical to getting the right pose for each one. So there was a great deal of research that went into the first round of each character.” From there, Bunker’s team worked in collaboration with Lucasfilm and Chorba, exchanging ideas on poses, designs, and expressions. The Star Wars Rebels style isn’t so far removed from that of Disney Infinity, which takes Disney•Pixar, classic Disney, and manga influences, and throws them in a blender. The result is a unified, alive, and beautiful aesthetic that works across brands. For Avalanche’s part, having an established look for the toys and game gave them a head start on bringing Star Wars and Star Wars Rebels into the fold.

“Thankfully, we had the Infinity style before we started working on the Rebels characters,” Bunker says. “Let’s say we were doing Infinity 1.0 from the start with Lucasfilm. I think it would’ve muddied the waters and we would’ve been too inspired by [the look of the animated series]. There’s no question I can see the similarities — they’re cousins. [Laughs] It wasn’t until we started working on characters like Sabine, Yoda, and Ahsoka that we backed into it and said, ‘Oh, man. We’re really close.’ There was a point where we said, ‘We’re too close. Let’s make sure that we’re being clear about our style versus their style.’ I think that’s why we ended up in a good spot. We had a strong vision of what Infinity was before we came into contact with Clone Wars and Rebels so that we were able to have our own identity.” On the Lucasfilm side, Chorba employed a surprising technique to make the transition between styles work and maintain a Star Wars consistency.

“Early on,” Chorba explains, “we got to a philosophical way of working. I work with a lot of teams this way, whether it’s on Battlefront or Infinity: We always envision the characters as real human beings.” This methodology levels the playing field, essentially; if all Star Wars characters have real-world counterparts, they can be adapted to the same style in another medium. “When we go and look at the Infinity style,” Chorba continues, “we go, ‘What would these characters look like if they were photo-real?’ and we build down. Sometimes we might take photographs of people that look like these characters. This was a unique challenge with Rebels, because these characters are brand new. We had no live-action reference.” While Chorba won’t reveal the real-world versions of Kanan, Ezra, and Sabine, he went right to the source — the show’s creators, including executive producer Dave Filoni and concept artist Kilian Plunkett — for help. They offered guidance as well as overall approval for the toys.

“I worked with Jeff Bunker and created the first versions of the characters,” Chorba says. “I then took 3D prints [of the figures] and met with Dave and Kilian.” Filoni and Plunkett advised on details and attitudes in order to truly capture the characters and develop them. “That’s an agreement that we have within Lucasfilm. We always go back to the person that created the character and get their point of view. Dave always wants his characters and their expressions to be right.” Part of getting the characters and expressions right meant not creating Season One versions, but rather, reflecting where they stand at the start of Season Two. This goes for both emotional and physical changes. But it wasn’t easy, as the figures were essentially done by the time of the season finale.

“At the last minute, we were making some hurried changes to make them relevant and accurate for when they came out,” Bunker says. “I was super happy that we were able to get that.”

“We got to a point where we had real synergy happening,” Chorba says. “We said, ‘These characters need to be Season Two.’ So, when you look at Ezra, he has his scars. You look at Kanan, he has his marks on his shoulder padding. You look at Sabine and she has a different paint deco. We’re talking to each other across departments to ensure accuracy. We’re all working as one.”

What they landed on for the final figures is a triumph of design and engineering — the characters’ various personalities are on full display while meeting the constraints of the actual toy box and budgeting. While there are specific details on each character that are impressive, both Chorba and Bunker point toward the Ghost crew’s stylish spray-painting heroine as a real achievement. Not just for the Star Wars Rebels line, but for Disney Infinity overall. Sabine stands proudly, one foot atop a graffitied stormtrooper helmet, hand on hip, tagging tool raised defiantly, hair dyed and fading, and sporting a winning smirk. It captures her perfectly.

Disney Infinity Sabine with 3D prototype

“That’s our goal,” Bunker says. “To try and create a pose that would not look right on anybody else. As we were developing that pose, we watched the TV series and we were trying to find moments that seemed like iconic moments of hers. That’s not a pose that’s directly out of the show, but if you were to go through, you’d see that it’s definitely inspired by some moments.”

“Her deco is beyond incredible. We spent more time perfecting Sabine than any other character,” Chorba says. “In addition, she’s on a stormtrooper helmet.” As seen below, the 3D-printed prototype of the figure originally featured a much more traditional stormtrooper helmet. To keep true to the style of the game and of the figures, the teams worked to convert it into Disney Infinity‘s aesthetic, too. “We did the stormtrooper helmet in the Infinity style, which is really cool,” Chorba says. “It’s basically two characters in one, and that’s a big deal. It hasn’t been done. On top of that stormtrooper helmet, we were able to apply deco over top — her marking. We got her tagging details in there. That’s Sabine.” The idea for the stormtrooper helmet came from Bunker’s concept artists, and though he loved it, he also thought it would be too cost-prohibitive to produce. Lucasfilm loved it, too, however, so they found a way to make it work. And by including all these character details, they’ve expanded what’s possible in a Disney Infinity toy. “This is really pushing the figures to their max right now,” Chorba says.

Disney Infinity Sabine with 3D prototype

“Without revealing too much,” Bunker says, “she’s one of our more expensive characters to make. There’s a lot going on there and I’m really happy with the way she turned out. I was pretty excited to work on her, because she is complicated, but at the same time, she’s very cohesive. She really works well as a character. I love how strong she is. Sabine is a very inspirational character — she’s independent and very creative.” One aspect of the figure fans might notice is that Sabine is depicted without her helmet; it’s an interesting choice, considering Marvel’s Star-Lord figure was produced with his mask on. And it was debated during the design phase.

“Especially with the whole Mandalorian background, that’s a cool thing,” Bunker says. “But on the other hand, you’re hiding so much of who she is with, obviously, her face, but her hair, and just the gradient of the colors there. It was back and forth. We even considered having her holding her helmet. But we felt like if we were going to have a helmet, it told more of a story to have the stormtrooper helmet. That’s why we went the direction we did.”

Disney Infinity Zeb with 3D protoype

When it came to the bruiser-with-brains from Star Wars Rebels, there was a different kind of challenge: fitting him in the box. As a Lasat honor guard, Zeb is a big alien with a big weapon — too big, in fact, for him to hold outward. The teams had to get creative, and looked to the character’s attitude to inform the final figure. “He’s got a really fun personality, and that was fun to work on his pose,” Bunker says. “He’s a big dude. We have some manufacturing constraints that we have to keep within a certain size. So, with his bo-rifle and his wide stance, he was definitely taking us down to the millimeter with what we could fit in the box. He’s got all of his paint decos, his stripes, his body armor is complex. He was an engineering nightmare, but I’m really pleased with where we ended up.” Again, the pose tells a story. Zeb, with his weapon confidently behind his back, motions for his enemy — probably bucketheads, as he’d call stormtroopers — to bring it. When StarWars.com asks if that’s what’s happening, Chorba is pleased.

“I didn’t even tell you that,” Chorba says. “Right? You just got exactly what that pose was. That’s the goal. To be true to the character in every way.”

That leaves the team’s two Jedi, Kanan and Ezra. Ezra, the 14-year-old con artist turned Padawan, grows up significantly by the end of Season One. Chorba and Bunker wanted Disney Infinity to illustrate this in a few ways: his facial scars from the season finale’s duel with the Inquisitor, as mentioned, but also his body language, and gameplay. “There is a progression that you see in the series that we wanted to capture in the game,” Bunker explains. “Even in the game, there are things that we’ve intentionally done in our skill tree, that you have to play him quite a bit before he gets some of his Force abilities. We wanted you to feel that same progression you saw him go through in the series.” The toy works in tandem with this.

Disney Infinity Ezra with 3D protoype

“We knew there was a pose that a lot of people were gravitating toward for Ezra,” Chorba says of a pose often featured in poster and box art. “We took that pose and then elongated him so he’s stretching upward, facing toward camera with the lightsaber to his character right. It makes him more mature. It was an intentional detail to show, ‘Hey, this guy went through a change.’ The change is the storyline, and that’s what we tried to capture.” Since Ezra and Kanan go on this journey of Master and apprentice together, the figures were intentionally made to complement each other. “His pose should be more confident than Ezra’s,” Chorba says. Indeed, Kanan looks more cautious yet also more able. “But when they’re together, it should look like Ezra’s learning from him,” Chorba says. “If you put Ezra in front of Kanan, it doesn’t work. But if you put Ezra to the side of Kanan, or behind Kanan, it works. You can see Kanan is the mentor.”

Disney Infinity Kanan with 3D protoype

The addition of Star Wars Rebels to Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition — and the care taken with that addition — illustrates just how important the series and its characters are to the Star Wars universe. In the game and in figure form, Sabine, Zeb, Ezra, and Kanan stand proudly with the galaxy’s most popular icons. “I’m super excited that we’re doing Rebels justice, the right way,” Chorba says. “We’re only expanding on something already great.” This is not the last stop in a galaxy far, far away for Disney Infinity, though. Quite the opposite.

“The cool thing is,” Bunker says, “there’s a lot coming down the road. I just want to ride the wave.”

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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