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Don Bies: Droid Wrangler

I stumbled on this article, I hadn't seen it posted anywhere so I thought I would share emoticon

Found it to be a nice little read.

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Edit 7-3-2008: Figures they would delete it right after I post it on here! :P For those of you who are interested, here is a copy:

Don Bies: Droid Wrangler
September 29, 2004

Shine On, C-3PO

It's not a simple task to take care of two of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars saga, but Industrial Light & Magic modelmaker Don Bies seems to have a special way with R2-D2 and C-3PO.

In the 17 years he's been watching over the droid duo, he's seen R2-D2 and C-3PO through plenty of adventures and close calls. Of course, he's also seen the pair go through quite a few changes. C-3PO's appearance seems to undergo constant evolution throughout the saga.

"In A New Hope, the suit was completely different from The Empire Strikes Back," Bies says. "I know that they used screws instead of what's currently in there are what are called Dzus connectors or quarter-turn connectors; it just takes a quarter-turn and it's locked. The original suits actually had a little screw; you'd have to sit there and screw everything in. I know Tony [Daniels] said that the first time they put it on in Tunisia, it took two hours for them to do it, and I guess he didn't take it off for the whole day. They considerably refined the suit for The Empire Strikes Back and then used the same suits for Return of the Jedi. They made vinyl parts for the hands, the trunks and the feet were vinyl, and the rest was fiberglass except for the arms which were aluminum. In the way it fits together, it just worked much nicer for Empire and was much more comfortable -- well as comfortable as it can be for Tony."

During the filming of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the incomplete Threepio could not be realized as a man in a suit, so was instead an intricate puppet. The suit returned in Attack of the Clones, in the form of a very worn finish built from a leftover gold suit from The Empire Strikes Back. During Episode II, Bies had been relieved to learn that C-3PO was going to have a mish-mash of metallic colors, which kept maintenance down to a minimum, and the crew could adjust the suit to accommodate Daniels without much trouble.

"However, with Episode III, they asked for the gold back again. I'm thinking, well, maybe is it going to be dirty gold. But George said, 'No, real clean -- he's a proper protocol droid this time,'" Bies says.

Because of the mandate for a brilliant golden sheen, Bies and his crew had plenty to do. The gold finished proved not only fragile, but picks up everything.

"The fingerprints and smudges tend to read on camera, so when we go in for close-ups we would polish him up," Bies says. Plating Threepio with a golden finish proved challenging on his various vinyl surfaces, like Threepio's trunk. "We haven't found anything that sticks well to the vinyl because it's flexible. We ended up having four trunk sections done up in gold. We ended up only using one because it didn't decay enough to be noticeable by the time we were done filming with them. We also have some custom boxes this time around so that we can transport the suit very easily in. We made flannel slipcovers for everything, so it kept scratching and marring down to a minimum. If there are little scratches, we can take care of by putting gold Mylar tape over them. When we had it repaired after Tony fell twice, we ended up taking some of the tape and just covering over the broken bits."

With an entirely golden suit, other problems besides fingerprints surfaced. The covering was now reflecting the crew and behind-the-scenes objects so that C-3PO almost resembled a walking funhouse mirror.

"When we got on set, the big concern was reflections," Bies says. "Before we started shooting the film, we brought the suit to the set and Director of Photography David Tattersall looked at it and asked for it to be dulled down. We made half of it really dull and the other half somewhat dull for comparison. When they looked at it in dailies to see what they thought, nobody liked the dullness. It looked like fake gold."

To keep C-3PO gleaming, Lucas and the ILM crew decided that any unwanted reflections would be fixed during post-production.

"It'll be interesting especially during the veranda scenes to see the added reflections of all the ships flying by and that sort of thing," Bies says. "What was really stunning though, was because we hadn't tented the set or dulled the suit, it was amazing at how beautiful the suit looked on the sets -- particularly the veranda set and Padmé's apartment."

While C-3PO was getting a much-needed facelift, his sidekick R2-D2 was getting hushed. Apparently, the personality-infused bleeps aren't the only noises Artoo makes.

"The original R2s were really noisy due to the light in the head that alternated between red and blue," Bies explains. "That was accomplished in the past by a light with a color wheel that rotated with the motor. It made for quite a noisy robot, especially in scenes where he's not doing anything. He's just sitting there and you just hear this whining and clicking."

To help alleviate some of the noise during production on Episode II, ILM modelmaker Grant Imahara created a solid-state system that remained silent, quieting the droid considerably. Still, Artoo managed to make his presence known even in scenes where he was meant to keep quiet.

"When we do close-ups of the actors we'll typically turn Artoo off, even though he might supposedly be in the scene," Bies says. "During Episode III, on Artoo's last scene, there is a switch that controls the head. For some reason, on my radio, the beep wasn't disabled. When it would reverse direction, it would beep. It's a real subtle beep but it was close enough to make one of the actors aware of it, which caused him some distraction. So I ended up operating Artoo for that shot from the monitors far away from him so that he wasn't distracted during the scene."

Last edited by Mr Tea, 7/4/2008, 2:00 am


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