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Apr 14, 2017

Doug Chiang's insights into the design of Rogue One

Concept art of Jedha and the Kyber temple from Rogue One


Here's wicked awesome report from concept design artist Doug Chiang's Star Wars celebration event session. Written by Bryan Young of BigShinyRobot.com it offers a great insight into how the creatures, critters as spaceships were designed.

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Doug Chiang is a legend of Star Wars and he’s been playing in that world as an artist for more than 20 years, working on the Special Editions, the prequels, and, now, the new generation of Star Wars films. At Star Wars Celebration Orlando, he offered a presentation on the design of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and we were on the scene to take down the 10 most fascinating facts from the panel.

1. For Rogue One, design was happening the whole time. According to Chiang, “Production design is a team effort and I had a great partner in Neil Lamont. We oversaw a team of 47 artists.” Chiang and these artists worked on Rogue One for years. Not only was there a long time to design through the development phase of the film, this team worked for six months through principal photography and then they spent a year designing the world after principal photography had finished. “Production design no longer ends with principal photography.”

ralph mcquarrie rebel base sketch

A Ralph McQuarrie sketch of a rebel hangar shown during the panel.

2. Original trilogy concept artist Ralph McQuarrie taught Doug Chiang everything. “Designing Rogue One started for me 40 years ago,” Chiang told the audience. “That’s when I saw Episode IV and that’s when I first saw Ralph McQuarrie’s work. His work completely influenced mine. Since I didn’t go to art school, I learned to paint and draw through Ralph’s work. The Art of Star Wars books and McQuarrie portfolios became my textbooks.”

When Chiang finally got to meet McQuarrie, he was dying to know how Ralph did what he did. “When I finally met Ralph in the late ‘90s, it was wonderful to hear how he created his art. His secret was that he was incredibly prolific. His paintings for Star Wars would take only a day or two, where paintings I was doing would take as many as five days.”

Concept art of the Imperial occupation of Jedha in Rogue One.

Concept art of the Imperial occupation of Jedha in Rogue One.

3. Star Wars has a consistent design timeline. In order to let the visual language of Star Wars make sense through different eras, each era of Star Wars is based on real-world design movements. “Episodes I, II, and III were grounded in the [designs of the] ‘20s and ‘30s, everything was handcrafted. Episodes IV, V, and VI were grounded in the heavy manufacturing of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The current trilogy can be seen as an analogue to our time.”

U-Wing Rogue One concept design
U-Wing design concept art

The U-wing went through many iterations before a final design was chosen.

4. The 80/20 rule. With Rogue One butting right up against A New Hope, there was a need to make sure the two halves of the original saga blended together seamlessly. “We knew that 80% of the film would need to rely on the classic designs,” Chiang said, “but that gave us 20% to play with.”

According to Chiang, they wanted to start big and the challenge was to make that 80% of their designs feel as though George Lucas had created them and built them and simply didn’t use them. The other 20% would come from blending the prequel designs with a more handcrafted look.

To design the U-wing (which went through 781 different drawings!), Chiang took Gareth Edwards up to the Lucasfilm archives to show him some of the designs they’d come up with for previous films. Edwards gravitated toward the looks based on an F1 Hydroplane, which shared design elements with Count Dooku’s solar sailer and Zam Wesell’s ship, helping bridge the looks between the dark times.

K2SO original concept design
K-2so statue deisgn concept

The evolution of K-2SO.

5. K2-SO was going to have a transparent head. At one point, Edwards toyed with the idea of K2-SO of having a transparent head so the audience could see him thinking. Chiang explained why this didn’t quite work. “When we drew this, it looked like we pushed it just a little bit too much out of the Star Wars box.”

After that, they tried putting the head of an RA-7 droid on Kaytoo, and that design stuck around for a while, but it wasn’t right. Eventually, a member of the creature department, Luke Fisher, painted the distilled essence of what Kaytoo would be in a painting, which would be recognizable as the lovably sarcastic droid in the film.

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