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Tag Archive: Phil Szostak


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy and the new film Solo: A Star Wars Story should take note of the fourth installment of Abrams Books’ Star Wars artbook series.  The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Phil Szostak not only looks behind the scenes of the production of the second of the modern anthology movies and fourth of the modern sequels, it reveals the finest and the most evocative Star Wars-styled concept art created since The Empire Strikes Back.  Taking a different path from the episodic sequels, the creators that imagined the look for Solo took their inspiration directly from the work of Ralph McQuarrie (original trilogy production illustrator and concept artist), Joe Johnston (original trilogy ILM art director), Harry Lange (original trilogy art director and set decorator), and Colin Cantwell (the first Star Wars spacecraft designer), concept artists behind the original Star Wars movie.  Including artwork both used for the final creation of sets, effects, and costumes, as well as imagery that didn’t make it to the final cut, The Art of Solo provides visuals fans back to the 1970s have only dreamed about.

Solo is also the first movie of the post-Disney period of Star Wars to draw back to the actual input from George Lucas for more than merely sketches and early descriptions of his earliest ideas from 1973.  Lucas was involved from the beginning, planning a Han Solo movie since before the Lucasfilm sale, and so this sequel has inspiration and concept direction from the creator of the franchise himself.  Lucasfilm/ILM lead concept designer James Clyne, production designer Neil Lamont, costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman, Neal Scanlan‘s creature department, and Rob Bredow and Pat Tubach‘s visual effects team were aware of the unique challenge facing this film–creating something faithful to the original trilogy and beloved characters while also taking the look and feel of the space fantasy into new territory.  The result is a film full of different worlds that still feels “Star Wars-y,” as the designers call it.  For this film, that meant a Western homage mirroring the American journey of settlers from the East Coast to the West Coast, and also importing story elements found in Akira Kurosawa’s Westerns, among many other classic films.

Many of the portraits and landscape paintings are poster-worthy.  Earthbound physical locations were tracked down to define new worlds Corellia, Mimban, Vandor, Kessel, and Savareen, along with CGI renderings, all to look like they belong in the Star Wars galaxy.  As Star Wars was created in the 1970s–taking place ten years prior to the original Star Wars–the artists looked for styles and ideas from the 1960s via movies, bands, computers and technology, and other cultural influences for costumes and set decorations.  So before Emilia Clarke was cast as Qi’ra, images of the character needed to establish her locations and costumes included drawings that look very much like Grace Kelly.  Incorporating images of younger versions of both Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams were obvious choices for creating their first looks, like the duo at the gambling table where Lando would lose the Falcon to Solo.  But soon Alden Ehrenreich’s image became the face of Han Solo.  All along, Chewbacca was Chewbacca, only the crew aimed to convey a different view of the Wookiee, where having all his hairs styled in place was no longer important–this was the young, wind-blown companion from the past, the one quicker to tear someone’s arms off.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new book takes a look behind the scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Abrams Books’ The Art of Star Wars: The Last JediAs with the prior entries in its series: The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it reflects fascinating and interesting images from the film, plus commentary and interviews from director Rian Johnson and his staff of creative professionals.  Most of the concept art provides a look at ideas left behind, with some exceptions, like the exotic new animals and beasts that could be seen throughout the film, like the sea cow, the porgs, fathier horse-like animals, and the crystalline shard foxes.  Johnson notes in the book’s foreword the challenges and hopes of making his new movie “Star Wars-y.”  Browsing this new book, it will be up to each reader and moviegoer to determine if he was successful.

As with past books in the series, the book was created parallel with the final post-production and film release, so a few key spoiler scenes are not included in the film.  Handily, this edition includes a follow-up section including the death of Han Solo that was omitted from The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  So a few elements are not addressed in this book many fans will want to know about, but perhaps those areas will be included in the behind the scenes volume for Episode IX.  But you will find plenty here to interest any fan–plenty of ship designs and concept art for the film’s new environments and sets.

The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi tells two separate stories, one in the text explaining the decisions made by director Rian Johnson and the visual artists and staff, and the second via the concept artwork that was translated to the screen and the artwork left behind.  The book lists 77 creators behind the backgrounds, landscapes, sets, vehicles, props, and costume designs.  It will take the reader who has seen the film five minutes of flipping through the book to realize it is Jock’s final character rendering work that is seen in the final cut of the film that landed in theaters: Old Luke’s fantastic island garb, Rey’s updated costumes, Rose’s and the Resistance’s uniforms, DJ and Leia’s costumes.  Really all the great, final designs that made it to the screen for the main cast came from the pen and paint of Jock.  But for whatever reason Jock was not interviewed for the book.  What were his influences?  Why this or that design?  It’s unfortunate because it really looks like Jock’s designs for Oliver Queen in his Green Arrow: Year One series directly influenced his designs for Old Jedi Master Luke and that would have been great to learn.

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Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 here, and the Best in Television here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best New Edition of Previous Published WorkThe Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, David Petersen (IDW Publishing).  David Petersen’s artwork was the perfect excuse to get Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful classic The Wind in the Willows into the hands of new readers.  The new edition from IDW Publishing was the perfect storybook, and Petersen, known best for his Mouse Guard series, showed his understanding of these characters and their natural world full of wonder through his fantasy images.

Best Read, Best Retro Read – Forever and a Death, Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).  Not every good idea comes to fruition.  Not every excellent project gets off the ground.  Not every great book gets published.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Books came through again, seizing the opportunity to take a lost, never before published work of Donald E. Westlake--Forever and a Death--and brought it to life.  And what a great adventure!  Originally the story commissioned to be the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the projected was shelved, and only now do we get fantastic characters (like environmental activist and diver Kim Baldur) in a very Bondian situation–destroying Hong Kong as payback for China taking it back from Great Britain.  Honorable mention for Best Retro Read: Turn on the Heat, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dragon Teeth, Michael Crichton.

Best Sci-Fi Read – Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Bradley W. Schenck (Tor Books).  Imaginative, new, and fun, Schenck took us into a timeless world full of nostalgia and classic science fiction.  Great tech, and a sprawling story.  Interesting characters and great world-building, this novel will be a great surprise for sci-fi readers.  Honorable mention: War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations, Greg Keyes.

Best Fantasy Read – An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, Curtis Craddock (Tor Books).  The plot of this debut novel is labyrinthine and action-packed, full of assassination attempts from all quarters, courtly intrigue galore, grandiose philosophies, and a cast of characters anchored by the strong, smart, resourceful, and eminently likeable heroes.  Supporting everything is Craddock’s strong, confident, often-funny, and sharply observant writing that goes from heart-wrenching to hilarious on a single page without missing a beat.  A dazzling debut.

Best Genre Non-fiction – Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, Daniel Falconer (Harper Design).  We wish every genre franchise had such a magnificent, thorough, monumental guide.  Falconer’s guide to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is full of interviews at all levels of the creative process, and supported by concept art, photographs, maps, and so much more.  Worthy of the six films it covers, it’s the ultimate fan book and a model for any franchise attempting to put everything fans could want into a single volume.

There’s much more of our selections for 2017’s Best in Print and more, after the jump…

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TheArtOfSWTFA

Review by C.J. Bunce

Not just another visual guide to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a new art book from Abrams looks behind the creative process in making a major motion picture.  The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unusual in that it doesn’t rely on film stills or the typical art design imagery you might find in a making-of movie work.  It is closer to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles–Art & Design reviewed previously at borg.com here than say Star Trek: The Art of the Film, discussed here, in that it is an exhaustive account of the trials and discarded concepts that come along with creating a new story for an established franchise.

Also, like the Hobbit Chronicles book series, Lucasfilm chose to use one of its own to chronicle the pre-production of the film.  Author Phil Szostak, who has a long history with the art department at Lucasfilm, was embedded in the art department of The Force Awakens crew as a conceptual researcher and archivist from December 2012 through the end of the making of the film.

Luke or Finn

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens provides many possible paths that might have been taken in creating the look and feel of Episode VII.  The most surprising may be that Rey and Finn were going to be called Kira and Sam for nearly the entire production process.  Many members of the press have used imagery from this book to assert that somehow scenes were deleted from the final cut or that the concepts and ideas in the book reflect the original plan, but that’s really not the case.  The ideas thrown around in the planning stages are the same types of ideas used in any production–some ideas are good and are used, others don’t make the cut for any number of reasons.  This is illustrated well in the pre-production for Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, as seen in Elysium: The Art of the Film, reviewed here.  Many good ideas just get left behind for the needs of the plot and the timing of the film.

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