As the second season nears an exciting two-part finale, the art director for the series delves into the creative process and the subtle storytelling of color.
It was a time of isolation. The COVID pandemic had forced strict stay-at-home orders across the country, and the team working on Season 2 of Star Wars: The Bad Batch was scattered, connecting through virtual calls to collaborate. But the real-world strife proved to be artistic fodder as the designers worked from afar.
“It's an interesting mirror to when the episodes were created and what, collectively, we were going through as a society and as a planet, really,” Andre Kirk, the art director for the series, tells StarWars.com. “And what came out of that? Either something very optimistic or something very bleak.”
Take “Pabu,” for example, and the titular island where Phee Genoa takes the Bad Batch to meet a village of refugees. “The task for that episode was create a location where you would want to be right now if you weren't trapped at home,” Kirk says. “It was this Santorini-inspired island location. We wanted to evoke a feeling of family, of community, of togetherness, and an idyllic vacation location that you can't be at right now because you're all trapped at home. So everyone put a lot of thought and feeling into that one. And it does really feel like a break from some of the previous episodes because we get to this location where [Clone Force 99] can finally make a home. And we wanted to go there.”
Most of the season captures feelings of seclusion and the bleakness of the Empire’s reign. For the clone troopers in particular, Kirk and his team carefully stripped the color from individualized armor, turning Commander Cody’s bright yellow palette to a dull gray. “Because that's what the Empire would've done.”
It’s a turning point that strikes a personal note for Kirk, who started out in Lucasfilm Animation as a concept artist on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and has worked as a designer on Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars: Resistance, as well as acting as the art director for both The Bad Batch and Tales of the Jedi, responsible for guiding the designers from the script to the final delivery of the finished animated episode. In each case, designers work diligently to create characters, environments, vehicles, and new creatures and aliens, utilizing past designs and evolving the look of the visual design. But one thing has stayed the same throughout: “If you design a ship that you're particularly proud of, odds are they're gonna blow it up,” Kirk says with a laugh.
Coruscant and clones
This season, Omega, Hunter, Tech, Wrecker, and Echo have become notably more colorful as their circumstances called for scavenging and hiding in plain sight. For the design team, a clearer understanding of each member of the Bad Batch helps to inform their decisions as those designs are elevated. “It's one thing reading a script and seeing a character's arc, but to see the final episodes, you start to have more of an intimate knowledge of the characters. It helps influence your design. When we designed new outfits for them, we can say, ‘Is this something Tech would wear?’ You get to know [them] like a friend.”
With the Republic dissolved and the Batch on the run from the Empire, their new armor became more colorful, without being too vibrant. “It's showing a little bit of their individuality,” Kirk says, while allowing the artists to consider their own headcanon for each character and situation. “How did they get the armor? Maybe it's the best that they could buy, the best that they could find. It's figuring out how they would navigate the galaxy now that they're on their own.”
New stormtrooper gear was designed to blend into the existing continuum established by the clone troopers of the prequels with nods to concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s original stormtrooper designs.
And the season brought us back to Coruscant, looking quite a bit different than it had in the days of the Clone Wars. “When we see Coruscant, it's updating what we've seen before,” Kirk says, exploring new areas of the city planet or simply altering the look of pre-existing locations like the massive Senate chambers. To evolve the look of Captain Rex in particular, the team considered his new circumstances, working with Senator Riyo Chuchi. “What would he be wearing if he's trying to hide that he's a clone, but he needs to be able to move around?” Kirk recalls the designers asking themselves. “If you put yourself in the character's footsteps, how would you go about being inconspicuous but not losing [your] identity?”
The Empire looms large this season, and Emperor Palpatine can be felt everywhere. Kirk and his team interpreted the strict regime through color, or lack thereof. “What the Empire is doing, from Season 1 all the way through, they're sort of leaching out all the color and all the individuality that the clones had. All their vehicles are getting bleached out. Anytime we would have a clone and brightly colored paint, that's starting to desaturate. It's little things like that that we'll do to the vehicles, to the characters, to the environments, those small sort of unspoken things where it's just getting more bleak.”
But the key outlier is the Batch. “They are standing out more against this bleak backdrop that is the rise of the Empire,” Kirk says.
The art direction went far beyond the reach of the Empire and its soldiers. To design the nefarious Mokko, for example, “we talked about what we want this character to evoke,” Kirk says. “We didn't have a particular alien species in mind, so we left that open. We did like the idea of cybernetics, and encouraged the designers to come up with a backstory.”
It’s an extension of that same thoughtfulness that can be felt in every design and location. “If you walk into a room, where's the light switch? It’s the same with the character. We encourage [designers to fill in] that character’s story. Where did he come from? How did he end up here? Did he win this mine in some sort of gambling establishment?” Kirk says. “And all those things magically coalesce into several iterations of the character.” For Mokko, however, it was important that the design not evoke too much compassion. “We didn't want you to sympathize with him because he is exploiting his team.”
Designers looked to adventure films like Indiana Jones, Goonies, and the sci-fi horror of Alien as touchpoints for quickly conveying a tone or themes in certain episodes this season, and in conversation behind the scenes. “It's not referencing a movie exactly; it's that feeling. We all have similar tastes in music and movies and things like that, so you can reference, I want a feeling like this or like that, and everyone seems to understand it,” Kirk says. “Getting to know the different personalities and having worked alongside a lot of these folks for so many years certainly makes it a lot easier to develop your own shorthand.”
The Lucasfilm Animation department is a rarity in that realm, with many crew members moving from show to show but staying within the Star Wars galaxy and the same company. “It's a great environment. Everyone works well together. Everyone is trying to constantly improve themselves,” Kirk says. “We never rest on our laurels. We are never really satisfied with what we do, and we want to do better next time.”