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May 2011

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Solo O The Solo Adventur es higher learning Preparing to fly RLANDO — Last year, a group of students at the The Digital Anima- tion & Visual Effects (DAVE) School in Florida set out to write, model, render and produce a “fan short” for the Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge at the annual Star Wars fan gathering, known as Celebration. Created with NewTek’s LightWave 3D Students from the DAVE School honed their skills by creating an animated short. software, the animated short, called The Solo Adventures, follows the experiences of Han Solo and his faithful co-pilot, Chew- bacca, from the Star Wars saga. The film, which is approximately five minutes long, went on to win the Best Animation title and quickly became a fan favorite in this galaxy not so far, far away. Lending navigational guidance to the stu- dents was Jeff Sheetz, school director/co- owner. Sharing the co-director title on the project were instructors Jason Bichon and Dan Smith (whom Sheetz dubs the school’s stereoscopic expert), though the entire team had a part in the writing. Students worked collaboratively on the film’s animation and effects during a three- month period at the end of their one-year of study. Here, Sheetz discusses the project and workflow, as well as how he got into the business of making films and training others. POST: What was the initial reaction of au- diences to The Solo Adventures? JEFF SHEETZ: “Regarding the art direc- tion for some of the ships, like the Millen- nium Falcon, we took some liber ties, but overall, we tried to stay true to the feeling and action of the first three Star Wars films (Episodes IV,V,VI).” sional 3D package or system was very hard to obtain and very expensive.” POST: What film inspired you? SHEETZ: “King Kong in the 1970s. I was watching the re-make of King Kong and saw any other studio and put out good work with the skills they learned.” POST: Since so many are Star Wars fans, the practical “doing something you love” approach must have been such fun and so The students took advantage of LightWave’s 3D stereo tools while creating this award-winner. the special effects mixed with huge props and the life-size Kong hand that picked up (the actress) Jessica Lange. I realized that one day very soon, these clumsy and non- believable ‘real-world’ special effects would all go digital.That’s what got me interested in filmmaking. “Visual effects and monster makers, like Rick Baker and John Dykstra, were pioneer- ing new and innovative ways to depict things out in space.Then, of course, Star Wars came along, and that one film launched the dreams and careers of thousands.” POST: The Star Wars short looks like it came directly from Lucas’s team at ILM. Can you tell us about The Solo Adventures pro- ject and why you picked the tools you did to create it? SHEETZ: “Well, first of all, we can do anything we want to do in LightWave and not have to wrestle with the software. It continues to be one of the easiest 3D soft- ware packages on the market to work with, even though 3D is not ‘easy.’ “We wanted to fashion The Solo Adven- team with their award. POST: When did you first get into 3D, and what inspired you? SHEETZ: “I experienced 3D computer animation way back in the early ’90s, when the first version of LightWave 3D was re- leased. At that time, access to any profes- 42 Post • May 2011 tures close to the animated look of ILM and LucasArts’ The Clone Wars, but also add some of our own touches.We were thrilled that we were able to make this short and give it such a professional look with our small student team, and, hopefully, some of our students can go on to work at ILM or educational for your team. What’s next on your roster? SHEETZ: “For The Solo Adventures, our goal was to create something fun and some- thing that follows the original Star Wars fan film. Most fan films go dark and look at the inner struggles related to the Jedi. We wanted to get back to the fun and adven- ture elements, and re-visit the relationship with Han Solo and Chewie.We got every- one together to come up with our own take of what our version of Han, Chewie and the robot character would be doing.We bor- rowed a lot of the expressions and person- alities from the first three films. “After we designed and scripted the short, we passed the designs on to the stu- dents, who got right to work to realize the vision of the art director. In addition, we used the motion capture stage at Universal Orlando’s Stage 25. (The 11,000-square- foot soundstage contains a large green- screen in addition to a mocap set-up.) “We also were extremely lucky to get John Armstrong, who amazingly voices Han Solo in the videogames (Star Wars: Empire at War and Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron). John is able to emulate Harrison Ford to a tee and match the Han Solo voice perfectly. Of course,we had great fun continued on page 47

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