Inside the Designs of Solo: A Star Wars Story

Concept artist Jake Lunt Davies reveals design secrets from the film -- and shares never-before-seen explorations of Maul for his return.

To create everything we actually see in a Star Wars movie, no matter how complex, it all starts with a simple process: human beings drawing things.

Last week, puppeteer Brian Herring took StarWars.com inside the Solo: A Star Wars Story creature shop, revealing many of the techniques and methods used to bring the film’s various creatures and aliens to life. Now, concept artist Jake Lunt Davies takes us back even further — to the design stage, where the movie’s characters and various galactic beings were ideated. With Solo now available on Digital and Movies Anywhere and its arrival tomorrow on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and On-Demand, StarWars.com spoke to Lunt Davies about defining (and adding some bling to) a giant worm-like entity, developing a Star Wars biker gang, and bringing Maul back to the big screen — with a first look at previously unreleased Maul concept art. (Note: All concept art by Jake Lunt Davies unless otherwise noted.)

Han Solo and Lady Proxima in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Lady Proxima

“There are four of us in the creature effects concept team — Ivan Manzella, Martin Rezard, Luke Fisher, and me. To begin with, we all work on a brief, generating ideas until one design gets picked and that designer takes it forward into development for sculpting and fabrication.

Lady Proxima and Han concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Lady Proxima and Han concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“The initial brief for ‘The Lair of the White Worms’ suggested that Lady Proxima was this matriarch of a low-level street gang, intolerant of daylight, might be literally worm-like, and potentially have tentacles underneath the water. We played with ideas that the tentacles might interconnect with her attendants, that maybe they were all a symbiotic organism; we looked at whether she was truly worm-like or more like a snake or serpent. Has she got scales or arms? She also had to be dominant over Han. She needed to come up and over and really bear down over him, towering up out of the water.

“The final creature design for Proxima was by Ivan Manzella, but I ended up designing her costume. When we had fully made the puppet, we experimented with dressing her in long flowing fabrics. In one of the drawings I drew, you can see her in white fabrics swooping down into the water. However, when we did it for real, it just didn’t work. It was clingy, it just didn’t do what you wanted it to do. So we ended up looking at hard-surface things. She’s like Fagin from Oliver Twist. She sends these kids out stealing and she keeps some choice things for herself. So her costume was an amalgamation of just trinkets she liked with an element of chainmail, large-scale loops all interlinked with a metal carapace across the top. Also, in place of fabrics, we had these strings of mother-of-pearl discs, like you get on those old-fashioned lampshades, hanging off her that were almost suggestive of scales.”

The sabacc game in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The Sabacc Game & Players

“We were given a screening of the film McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Everything was real low-level lighting, and that was a big starting point. Through the course of production, Caravaggio came up. We sat a long time just referencing Caravaggio and the Caravaggisti — Flemish artists that were very influenced by Caravaggio, who were painting these scenes of gamblers and card players, people sitting around tables, and lots of little action poses. With Bradford Young’s lighting using practical sources, what you see in that final look is very Caravaggio influenced.

“At one point we had all the sculpts arranged, prior to them getting molded and signed off. We set that scene up, we had them all sitting around this big table. We had the low light above the table and it all looked amazing.”

Concept art of the sabacc game from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

There are so many characters in that scene. They all read as Star Wars to me, but the designs are all doing different things. Are you consciously trying to make them all fit together? 

“On a physical level, no. They are all shapes and sizes from different parts of the galaxy. But costume and details do work to tie them together.

Big Eye concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story by Ivan Manzella.

Big Eye concept art by Ivan Manzella.

The sabacc game in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“However, we did try this thing, which is apparent in a couple of the designs. You know the big one-eyed guy, a big looming thing with one eye and the little red thing with two heads, sitting next to Lando? They were both designed by Ivan Manzella. We did this little exercise where we thought, ‘Right, Star Wars was made in 1976. This Han Solo film is set 10 years or so before Star Wars. So imagine if this Han Solo film had been made 10 years prior in 1965. If it was made in 1965, what would’ve influenced the designers? It would’ve been more ’50s.’ So we generated a lot of ’50s pulp sci-fi style aliens and those two that Ivan did came out of it. They have this really ’50s space monster feel about them.

Concept art of who would become "The Dealer" by Adam Brockbank.

Concept art of who would become “the dealer” by Adam Brockbank.

“I did love the dealer. You do get to see him a couple of times. He started out as a sketch for Enfys Nest — we were all pitching in on that. They wanted to have this bony-mask feel, and at the time the mask was meant to be made out of bone with scrimshaw detailing. But then he didn’t get picked for Enfys Nest, and I had to get rid of the bone mask, so it became this leather mask. But I loved him. I was really pleased with him. I just thought he was so Star Wars. I loved his hat. He’s got this tube, like a breathing apparatus, that comes out one side of his mouth, and that’s a nod to a short, stumpy cigar — a Clint Eastwood kind of thing. Like a cigar coming out the side of your mouth. It works again for a classic poker dealer look. You’ve got your cigar and the shade over your eyes. [Laughs]”

The sabacc game from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Dava Cassamam (second from right above)

“There’s nothing particularly female about her. But that’s aliens for you, who knows what sex some of them are? On a side note, there’s a sort of default assumption to aliens and creatures that they are male unless they’re obviously female — curvy, sexy, or have a feminine costume. In the case of her, why shouldn’t she be female? She doesn’t need all these tropes or cliches to make her female.

Dava Cassamam concept art for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“I think she started off as another character. Just a general, background boss alien or something. She might have even been Dryden Vos at one point. We were just generating all these ideas. It turned out she fit in to the sabacc game quite well. The original concept was much more refined — the headdress and tech was more modern, slicker, and new with gold detailing, which we degraded in the final look, and her fine fur-trimmed coat became this rough bear-skin around her shoulders. All much more rough and ready.

“I think when I drew it, I was thinking of the Native American headdresses. I love that silhouette where everything sweeps back off the head. That’s kind of got that Western feel, as well, I suppose. On a very subtle level, it has that feel.”

Maul from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul

“A handful of us were let in on Maul being in the film so we could start development on it. We all had to be extremely hush hush on it, as they really wanted it to be as much of a surprise as possible. It made it tricky to actually work on because we didn’t even want people to know there WAS as a secret. Anytime anyone came into our room, we were on guard, basically, and would quickly put another safe picture up to hide what we were working on. But yeah, it was brilliant working on Maul.

Maul concept art by Jake Lunt Davies for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul concept art by Jake Lunt Davies for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul concept art by Jake Lunt Davies for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“It was a really cool thing to work on. The time difference between when you’d last seen him and now…and obviously we’re bringing back Ray Park! It gave us the opportunity to look at what we could do with the makeup and the styling of him, to see if we could add a little bit of an edge to him because he’s become who he is, because he’s older, and also because the techniques of makeup application have developed since they did it the first time around. So we did a lot of exploration of how far we could push it. Have his horns grown, have his horns been chopped off? Have his tattoos changed? Has he added tattoos, have they faded like old sailors’ tattoos have faded? There were all these different things we were playing with. Has he got more scars? Does he look really craggy or does he look full and fat and successful?

Maul concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul concept art series by Glyn Dillon.

Maul concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“With the legs, through the research we did, he’d been through two or three different pairs since losing his lower half. When he showed up in Clone Wars, he gets fixed up with a big pair of spider legs first, then after that he gets these sort of backwards-facing chicken legs, then normal straight legs. So we thought, ‘We’ve got the liberty to design his legs, because they’re not canon and set in stone at this time.’ Again, we did a lot of different leg designs, and maybe made him a bit taller or tried to bring character to his leg designs, I suppose. And then it was, how much of his leg design do you get to see in conjunction with his costume? Where does his costume end — at the waist or lower down? You don’t want to hide his legs too much, so costume had to get that right. It was an interesting process to find all these little things to get that right, really.

“But back to the makeup design. Previously in The Phantom Menace, it was just painted on and the horns were just stuck on. For Solo we actually had prosthetics applied to his whole head. All the visible scars were actually slightly ridged, like there’s been a scarification. Very subtle but they made the difference between the red and the black ping out with this sort of little dropped shadow. Colin Jackman did the sculpt, and Martin Rezard and Waldo Mason did the application. Prior to painting, I had done a series of colorways in Photoshop, painting over Colin’s sculpt, experimenting with different levels of the red and the black. We got to this very dirty, sort of desaturated red, and the black had become a bluey-black. The tone of it, which you don’t really get to see in the film, unfortunately, was much more desaturated, with the tattoos faded and patchy.

Maul concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“At one point, I did a drawing which was based on one of Ian McCaig’s really amazing early concepts [for The Phantom Menace] of Darth Maul with hair, sort of lank and wet. His image didn’t have the horns — it looked like it was out of The Ring, or something like that. So I did a version based on that where his hair had grown [Laughs], he had all this long hair and all his horns had grown long like antlers, sort of spiky; he hadn’t cut them back and they’re just overgrown, so he has this huge crown of horns poking out of his hair and this glowering look.”

The Cloud-Riders from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Cloud-Riders

“The Cloud-Rider gang was a thing that developed as the script went on. The original brief was just for creatures and aliens that had a feeling of being like a biker gang or ‘sky-pirates’. As the script developed, it became as they were in the end, all different races or species representing their homeworlds that had been mistreated by the Empire. So then it was a case of, ‘We’ve already got this pool of aliens that have been selected, and which ones are going to fit?’ It was a question for Ron [Howard] to pick the ones that he wanted to be in that gang. What was great was we got a Rodian in. I was really pleased to get a Rodian in — that came up very, very late. ‘We need a few extras to be in the Cloud-Rider gang.’ ‘Well, how about a Rodian?’ [Laughs] In this case, they bought it, and went, ‘Yeah, let’s make a Rodian!’ I did some concepts where I tried to make it look not like Greedo. She’s female, as well, so it’s a female performer. There are sculptural difference between the original and what you see on the film. Battlefront was quite good reference, they used Rodians, as well, and had quite a nice take on them. They added war paint to really make sure no one in the audience would think, ‘Is that meant to be Greedo?’ [Laughs]

Cloud-Rider concept art from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“When I drew that [sketch above], I was looking at pictures and references of bikers. I had loads and loads of reference of ’50s and ’60s and ’70s biker gangs. I probably borrowed that exact pose off some guy leaning back on his chopper. The tusks are moustache-like, the feathers are part of that Native American culture. Yeah, I was really trying to get into it then. At that point they weren’t going to be masked. They were just this gang, then it became that they wanted this reveal, so you weren’t sure who they were. They were all masked, and then as it transpired they were actually the good guys.”

Auromae Iselo from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Auromae Iselo

“One of the best bits was my daughter Eloïse’s contribution, who was one of the Cloud-Riders. You only get a very, very, very little glimpse of him. Eloïse is 11 now, but ever since I’ve been on Force Awakens — she was about six when I started on that — she would every so often say, ‘Dad, I’ve drawn you some aliens. Can you make them real? Can you draw them up better?’ Some of them I thought were really good. They were very simple drawings but the actual core idea was quite cool. Since The Force Awakens, I’ve occasionally taken some of her drawings, redrawn them in my style, and included them in our presentations. They’ll go up on a big wall, and J.J. [Abrams] or whoever the director is will go around and pick some aliens. I’ll go home and she’ll be like, ‘Dad, how’s my alien doing?’ And I go, ‘Well…it’s still on the wall.’ There’s a pyramid of choice. As it gets toward the top, things fall off and aren’t made, until we get to the final top row, as it were, which gets made. There’s a C list and a B list and then the A list. ‘Dad, how’s my alien doing?’ ‘Well, it’s on the B list.’ She’s like, ‘Okay, okay, okay.’ [Laughs] Then, ‘How’d it do today?’ ‘Well, sorry to say, it’s not going to happen. It didn’t make it to the A list.’ And she was brilliant about it. Given what I tell her about what I do, she fully realizes the precariousness of the whole thing. You know, when you go to see the final film and half the stuff we do is not in the film, she knows it’s not a given. So she’s very grown-up about it.

“This character, Auromae Iselo, really made it high up in The Last Jedi. Rian [Johnson] had picked him and he was getting close, and then he didn’t happen. And then I put him in again; I’d keep redrawing him and putting him in new costumes. I think I put him in a casino outfit for The Last Jedi. [Laughs]

Auromae Iselo original sketch by Jake Lunt Davies' daughter.

The original sketch for what would become Auromae Iselo, by Eloïse Aurora Mae.

Auromae Iselo concept art for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Auromae Iselo concept art for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

“So on Solo I drew him looking like some cool bounty hunter, and he got picked! ‘Eloïse, he’s been picked! He’s been picked!’ She was really excited, but I said, ‘Look, Eloïse. Don’t count your chickens. Still not definitely going to be in the film even though he’s been picked. Don’t get your hopes up.’ Then the days go on, I was like, ‘Eloïse, we’ve made it! He’s been made, he’s been sculpted!’ She was really excited. ‘It’s the same performer that was in Pao, who I also designed, with Derek Arnold in Rogue One!’ And then, I took her to the cast and crew screening. You can see him twice: The first time in a huge wide of the space port and then very briefly at the end when he takes his Cloud-Rider mask off. And that was enough for her. She was really excited, she was so happy. And on top that, I’d also previously emailed Pablo [Hidalgo] of the Lucasfilm Story Group and told him the story I just told you. ‘Is there any chance that his name can somehow be based off Eloïse’s name?’ Her full name is Eloïse Aurora Mae, so he semi-anagrammed it into Auromae Iselo. Again, she was like, blown away by that.”

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available on Digital and Movies Anywhere, and arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and On-Demand on September 25.

You can see many of the pieces included here and more in The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story, available now.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. 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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