Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: Master monster maker, Dave Esley, recently talked about all the infamous, and not so infamous, creature effects being performed in the upcoming Star Wars flick. Below is a clip from the massive interview...
From his fantastical creatures in "Farscape" to his plant-wrangling skills in The Little Shop of Horrors, Creature Shop Creative Supervisor Dave Elsey is very familiar with transforming foam, latex and a hodgepodge of materials into beloved characters within the sci-fi cinematic universe.
Elsey's resume reads like a cult film dream list. He did creature effects in Alien 3, worked as a special makeup effects artist on Hellraiser, Mission: Impossible, M:I 2, and Waxwork (in which he also played "Zombie #6.") He honed his animatronics skills in the cult classic of The Little Shop of Horrors. He is perhaps most well known by genre fans for his role as the creative supervisor on the sci-fi TV series "Farscape" where he designed and maintained up to 50 different creatures.
For his latest role as the Creature Shop Supervisor for Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Elsey and his team are responsible for "anything that has any appendage, horns or unusual contact lenses, to full suits and Animatronic puppets," but also for revamping a few characters who are nothing less than iconic in the minds of Star Wars fans worldwide.
"We're also recreating a lot of characters from the earlier movies, such as the Emperor and of course, we show how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader," says Elsey
Transforming a handsome actor like Hayden Christensen into a gruesomely tragic Darth Vader isn't easy, and Elsey had his hands full trying to create a ravaged Sith Lord fans have only seen glimpses of sans-helmet.
"At the end of Return of the Jedi, when his helmet comes off and we see what he looks like, we've had to kind of do the earlier version of that and we've had to really research that," Elsey explains. "There are very few photographs of how everything actually looked." Anakin's injuries revealed in Episode VI have been extensively analyzed and documented by fans throughout the web, and Elsey was able to supplement what few pictures were available with in-depth fan analysis. "Fortunately the Internet is full of that sort of stuff and that helped us," he recalls. "The fans have actually helped us find the materials we needed because they've written endlessly about it."
Elsey describes the work of recreating previous makeup effects as a form of archeology. "We've basically been retracing the steps of other makeup artists," he says. "We've had to get every scar in the right place and kind of make sense of everything."
In puzzling through years-old makeup processes that weren't extensively documented, Elsey had to figure out the cinematic reality that dictated his decisions. The unmasked Anakin from Episode VI didn't seem to line up with what the Episode III storyline demanded.
"I'm a big fan of all the original trilogy makeup, but the appearance of Anakin's face at the end was very confusing because it didn't really look like he had been burned," Elsey says. "He had a kind of big gash down one side of his face and he had some kind of gash on the top of his head; but no real burns as far as I could see. Plus you really only see Anakin/Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi with the bottom half of his mask still on. We figured that all the real damage was under the chin."
The makeup design also had to conform to the glimpse of the helmet-less Vader from The Empire Strikes Back. "There, you see a very, very quick shot of the back of his head that shows real specific scarring. We just had to make sure that we got that stuff in the right place," he says. Darth Vader spends over two decades encased in the dark armor. These intervening years allowed Elsey and his team some flexibility in designing Vader's Episode III look. "Basically we figured he's had loads of surgery and skin grafts and everything that you can possibly do to make him look as good as he does... which is not that good at the end of Return of the Jedi. That way we were able to go a lot rawer in Episode III," he says. "I've actually done a lot of work with burns so I wanted it to be really quite accurate," Elsey says. "In fact, even if you stylize the wounds a little bit, you still have to make them quite graphic in order to make it really look like a fresh burn, which is extremely difficult to accomplish in film like this."
Once Elsey came to a conclusion about filmic "reality" versus forensic accuracy, he consulted with Director George Lucas about the final look.
"When I went back to George I asked, 'Look, how much can we get away with here? How nasty can we make it?' And he basically just said, 'Do what you have to,'" Elsey recalls. "This is some very dark imagery for a Star Wars film, probably making it the darkest Star Wars film out of all of them. So I'm also quite excited to see it because I think it's a really strong makeup that manages to blend everything together with what we saw before."
When it came time to subject Hayden Christensen to the lengthy makeup session, Elsey found a more-than willing victim. "Hayden obviously wants this to be as great as it possibly can be," Elsey says. "He saw a lot of the designs that we did early on. We were trying to describe the processes, but he hasn't actually worn prosthetic makeup before this, so it was all very new to him. He was very concerned that everything be authentic and that it look really exactly the way he saw it in his mind as well. I obviously wanted him to be happy with what he was looking at in the mirror.
Continues Elsey, "The longer that he was in the chair, he would close his eyes for a little bit and then he'd open his eyes again and look at himself in the mirror. Every time he did that, another few more stages had been done. I could see him getting happier and happier. Which is very good, because I have had the situation before where people open their eyes and they're getting less and less happy the more alien-looking or deformed they're getting."
CLICK HERE for a continuation of the massive interview!