SWCE 2013: “Designing a Galaxy” Panel with Doug Chiang and Iain McCaig – Liveblog

Doug Chiang and Iain McCaig are here at Star Wars Celebration Europe to discuss (with the great Warwick Davis) how they designed the memorable characters (including Darth Maul), vehicles, and locales of a galaxy far, far away. Couldn’t make the trip to Germany? Don’t worry — we’re here to liveblog it for you!

14:00: We’re underway! Warwick Davis takes the stage sporting lightsaber shades! Intro video claims “He could have been in Iron Man…but he wasn’t.”

14:03: Davis talks about how he started as a fan in 1977 when he saw the original film, and then got to work with his heroes.

14:07: A communication droid (a green and white astromech) has joined Davis on stage. It talks, too! Davis threatens to place a restraining bolt on the droid if he tries any funny business.

14:10: Now showing a reel that shows the evolution from concept art to film, including the podrace, Darth Maul, and Naboo. Doug Chiang and Ian McCaig take the stage!

14:12: Davis recounts talking to Chiang during early Episode I production, asking him to design short characters.

14:13: Biggest influence? Chiang says it was the first Star Wars. McCaig says “I was a cynical art student. We weren’t going to watch Star Wars!” But adds, “It’s an honor to work on it…my favorite project is the next one.” Big applause.

14:15: First memory of Star Wars? Chiang says it was the opening shot from Star Wars. “It was amazing.” McCaig: “Carrie Fisher’s red lipstick.” Iain says he was inspired to become an artist from a set of dinosaur cards he had in Kindergarten. “Do it from joy, from the things that you love. That’s how you should draw.”

14:18: Chiang says, “The only way I can draw figures is if I break it down as a robot,” as he loves machinery. “That was a breakthrough.” When it comes to inspiration, McCaig says the crowd in attendance are the “finest fantasy creatures” he could learn from. “I’m not sure that’s a compliment,” Davis says.

14:20: McCaig: “George [Lucas] always told me he loved the women I drew.” McCaig says he told Lucas that he puts himself in all his characters, from Amidala to Maul. “You need help,” Lucas told him.

14:23: Chaing on working on the prequels, says he looked up to Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and Lucas, and Lucas liked his sensibilities: like McQuarrie, but sleeker. “I always like to look at my experience on Star Wars with George as my film school…George said your designs have to read in the first couple of seconds, or else it’s not going to work…What I realized was, when you break it down like that, it’s absolutely true.” The ones that Lucas picked out of Chiang’s hundreds of concepts are the ones that worked the best. The rejections were added to Chiang’s “Wall of Shame” in his office.

14:26: McCaig says that Chiang is too modest — he was not an unknown when he started on the prequels. “He walked in with an Academy Award.”

14:28: McCaig says that Darth Maul started out as a woman, but Lucas said no. The script described him as “a vision from your worst nightmare.” He imagined a pale white face staring through the window at you in the pouring rain. Concept art is shown.

Discussing Amidala’s design: Before Natalie Portman was cast, McCaig used her for his concept art, thinking she’d be perfect.

14:33: McCaig is teaching audience member Chris to draw Darth Maul. The Emperor’s theme plays for inspiration.

14:40: They finish. All look good, but “mine looks like a cross between Darth Maul and Harry Potter,” Davis says.

14:42: Chiang takes easel to teach a new audience member to draw a battle droid. Chiang says he always uses construction lines to help him maintain perspective, “which is really important for mechanical designs.”

14:44: “When you’re drawing machinery, don’t worry about making mistakes.” Chiang adds that he thinks of the battle droids’ antennae as like hair or dreadlocks.

14:48: Drawing is done! Attendee Joe’s is great. Warwick’s, not so much. “He ended up wearing a fluffy hat,” Davis says.

Now onto a Star Wars quiz: Galaxy Quest…ions!

14:50: So far they’ve gotten everything right EXCEPT the number of lightsaber’s Grievous fought Kenobi with on Utapau. 9/10!

14:53: Audience Twitter questions. Favorite design not used? Chiang says many of his Utapau designs.

Main concern in using McQuarrie designs while creating an earlier era of Star Wars. Chiang: “We started with a more handcrafted world…it was a much more romantic, artisan-style world.” The original trilogy was more mechanical.

14:56: R4 (Davis’ droid) reminds him to ask the artists to help design a new alien on stage…maybe it can go into a new Star Wars film? Warwick begins to draw.

15:00: Davis discusses how all his characters in Lucas’ movies have names that start with “w.” Wicket, Willow, Weasel, etc. He asks the audience to help name this new alien via Twitter, and that its name begin with a “w.” Chiang adds to the drawing, now Iain starts to design.

Any advice for up and coming artists? “One of the things I always look for are sketchbooks,” Chiang says. They show how artists think on the fly and “dig down deep into what’s in the artist’s head.” Learn basic skills and get a good foundation.

15:03: The alien is done! Bird-like head, robotic body, and bird-like feet!

That’s it! Thanks for following along with us!