Van Ling


Star Wars: Phantom Menace DVD is swarming with plenty of extras. Keri Allan spoke with the techno wizard responsible for creating one of this years most impressive DVD discs, Van Ling...

Keri Allan: How much time and effort went into creating the Star Wars DVD?

Van Ling: Plenty of time and effort! The menus probably took me a good three or four months to put together. Obviously, there was quite a lot of menus.

KA: When did you start working on it?

VL: I was first approached in August 2000, and started work officially in October of the same year. In addition to working on the menus, I also produced the disc - which involved helping put the film together, helping LucasFilm put together lots of different elements. It was a long process.

KA: How did you decide on the look of the menus? Did you have any criteria you had to follow?

VL: Well a lot of my previous menu work involved environmental settings, such as the Abyss - I created menus that were from an environment in the film. I knew right away that that would not be completely possible with Episode I because there's so many places, so many locations in the movie, that I couldn't chose just one of them. That was when I came up with the idea of having three of them and gave myself treble the work! Its nobody's fault but my own (laughs) for having come up with that, but I think LucasFilm was thrilled with the idea and said 'Go Ahead'!

KA: Did you have to create the menu's from scratch or where you provide with whatever visual CGI material you wanted from LucasFilm?

VL: It was a combination of things. There were three kinds of materials I was using. I had digital frame files made of shots from the movie - from the high definition transfer. Another source of material was from Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). In that particular instance it was me saying 'I loved that one shot in the movie, but I can't use it as it. In the movie it was only five seconds long, and I need it 20 seconds long'. They would provide me with the separated elements from the scene, then I could take those elements and make them into 20 second loops. Then the thid way was to generate images from scratch. I took photographs and imagery from the Lucasfilm storage archives and worked from there.

KA: Did you have free run?

VL: I was pretty fortunate because they believed in what I was doing, they pretty much said that we like your ideas for the menu so go for it. So I came up with all these good ideas and then I had to go figure out how I was going to get them to work.

There are whole different elements, whole different areas. One of the things I really tried to do with these menus is to get people excited about the movie. It was a great way for me to add my contribution to the Star Wars universe, while maintaining George's artistic feel.

KA: Are you a Star Wars fan?

VL: I have been a Star Wars fan since 1977. I was 13 years old when I saw Star Wars for the first time so yeah, its been like a dream come true.

KA: How many people worked on creating the menus?

VL: There were three of us. There was myself, a digital artist and one other person who was a video editor and sound editor. I did everything on the Apple Macintosh, Johnny, the other guy I worked with, loves to work on the Powerbook. We do all these graphics on the G3. We use Adobe Aftershock as the software to create the menus. I am an independent contractor, I also do work as a visual effects supervisor, so I'm used to a Mac.

I don't have a huge facility to work with. I would have loved to have had ILM to help me, but they are busy with movies. I was able to do a lot of these things on my desk top system. The technology is there and available on the Internet. What makes the difference is what you do with it. ILM will still be the best because of their people, not the machines that they use. But the tools are out there, its now down to the people who create the work, it's talent and imagination.

KA: Do you think the fans will believe it was worth the wait to see a Star Wars DVD?

VL: I certainly hope that they feel it was worth the wait. The feedback has been very positive. LucasFilm and myself believe when you put out a DVD its got to be really worthwhile. I am one of these people that feels that a special edition disc should really add something to the movie. What we have here is not even a special edition. This is the Star Wars Phantom Menace on DVD. The idea is that this is what we do, this is what we consider normal, we're not calling it special edition, were not calling it anything like that. What others consider special, we consider normal.

KA: What was your favourite part of working on the DVD?

VL: I think I'm most proud of, having been a Star Wars fan, is to be able to be a part of that universe. It's not only being a part of it, but to also have the collaboration and respect of Lucas film.

You always come into this relationship with a production house with trepidation. You want to make sure you do the job right, you want to please the client, yourself and the fans, and that's what so wonderful about it. They [LucasFilm] didn't come in and say 'this is what we want you to do', or 'what are you going to do?' They came in and said we really want to collaborate on this and we respect you for what you've done.

KA: Are there any Easter eggs on the disc?

VL: There are a few things in there, we think they are worthwhile, they are not too hard to find, well one of them is! Also we had to deal with George's requests, he wanted some put in there. He has a great sense of how he wants it to be. His stamp is on every part of the DVD. He had an idea of how he wanted to approach it all, what kind of documentary he wanted, how he wanted his vision on the DVD and how he wanted it presented so he was very involved. He had finally found a medium that gave him, as a film maker, the ability to create freely.

The deleted scenes, for example, were basically created from scratch. Around 300 visual effects shots were made specifically for the DVD. That was a big challenge because these scenes were originally shot with the actors, but in the editing were cut out. On a normal movie it would just be a case of assembling the scenes together, but because its a Star Wars movie, most of the shooting was against blue screen, so when the scenes were deleted from the film, half the shots didn't exist because they involved computer generated characters and stuff like that. The other half of the shots that existed weren't actors against the blue screen so they had to completely create these scenes from the ground up.

KA: What can we expect to see from you next?

VL: I'm working on putting together a DVD of True Lies, that's going to be a long project, and I'm also working on visual effects on a feature film. I'm certainly keeping busy!

KA: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Liz at DSA


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