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July 25
2023

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

AARDMAN DECLARES ‘I AM YOUR MOTHER’ FOR STAR WARS: VISIONS VOLUME 2

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd. and Aardman.

Lead Animator and Key Stop Motion Animator Laurie Stizia animates the interaction between Anni and Kalina during the tunnel sequence.

Lead Animator and Key Stop Motion Animator Laurie Sitzia animates the interaction between Anni and Kalina during the tunnel sequence.

If you want to see the global talent practicing the art of storytelling through animation, the recent trend towards anthologies appearing on the streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ are providing the platform for viewers to do so. After using a series of nine anime shorts to showcase the influence of Japanese cinema on George Lucas and the Star Wars universe, Lucasfilm has expanded the worldview for Star Wars: Visions Volume 2 to include U.K. stop-motion maestros Aardman for I Am Your Mother. The tongue-in-cheek story, directed by Magdalena Osinska, cleverly shifts the dysfunctional volatile father-son dynamic to a nurturing mother-daughter class conflict and transforms a beloved supporting character into a self-promoting salesman.

One of the most difficult physical actions to pull off was getting the puppets to hug each other in a believable manner.

One of the most difficult physical actions to pull off was getting the puppets to hug each other in a believable manner.

One of the most difficult physical actions to pull off was getting the puppets to hug each other in a believable manner.

“The theme of family is something I love to explore in my work, and a lot of the characters in ‘I Am Your Mother’ are inspired by people I’m familiar with, so this largely informed the visual aesthetic,” Osinska explains. “I intentionally wanted the main characters to be alien, as that was inspired by my arrival in the U.K. as a Polish national. I was an alien, so our characters are literally aliens! In terms of animation, I was keen for a female animator to develop these mother-daughter relationships. Our lead animator, Laurie Sitzia, developed and tested Anni and Kalina. We had in-depth conversations with Laurie about mother-daughter relationships, about Anni and Kalina’s background, motivations and emotions throughout the film. We talked about the closeness and warmth of their relationship, but also that relatable feeling of being embarrassed by your parents, and being able to show these layers of feelings through the puppet’s performance.”

As for the visual language, it was important to retain a warmth between Anni and Kalina despite the rising tension between them. “Such subtle emotional shifts needed to be evident, and I worked hard to put them into the finer nuanced details of their facial expressions,” states Laurie Sitzia, Lead Animator and Key Stop Motion Animator. “This was especially important in the cockpit sequence where we watch Anni’s frustrations escalate until she reaches boiling point with an outburst that shocks and hurts her mother. She immediately regrets it but can’t take it back. Kalina contains her hurt to protect her daughter, but we still needed to see a glimpse of it.”

Concept design of the spacetug, which serves both as a home and spacecraft for Anni and Kalina.

Concept design of the spacetug, which serves both as a home and spacecraft for Anni and Kalina.

Concept design of the spacetug, which serves both as a home and spacecraft for Anni and Kalina.

“I was keen for a female animator to develop these mother-daughter relationships. Our lead animator, Laurie Sitzia, developed and tested Anni and Kalina. We had in-depth conversations with Laurie about mother-daughter relationships, about Anni and Kalina’s background, motivations and emotions throughout the film. We talked about the closeness and warmth of their relationship, but also that relatable feeling of being embarrassed by your parents, and being able to show these layers of feelings through the puppet’s performance.”

—Magdalena Osinska, Director

Director Magdalena Osinska prepares the spacetug for the complex tunnel shot that occurs during the race.

Director Magdalena Osinska prepares the spacetug for the complex tunnel shot that occurs during the race.

Reflecting how the relationship evolves between Anni and Kalina are the book-ending hugs. “Hitting the perfect pose in a hug in stop-motion is always a challenge and much harder than it looks. Puppets don’t usually fit together very easily. You’d never know it, but Anni’s head is actually cheated forward and is floating on a rig about 10mm forward of Kalina’s face for the last few frames of their final pose. It was the only way to get their tilted heads to look like they were making contact with each other. The rig had to be cheated in mid-shot, quite a fiddly operation,” Sitzia says.

Lead Animator and Key Stop Motion Animator Laurie Stizia found it important to display subtle emotional shifts to reflect the evolution of the mother-daughter relationship between Kalina and Anni.

Lead Animator and Key Stop Motion Animator Laurie Sitzia found it important to display subtle emotional shifts to reflect the evolution of the mother-daughter relationship between Kalina and Anni.

There cannot be any Star Wars story without droids, and the faithful malfunctioning companion Z1 displays the characteristics of an accordion-expanding sausage dog. “[Animation Director] Steve Cox developed and 3D printed the prototype for Z1 himself. As a huge Star Wars fan, he was keen to ensure that the final puppet would feel totally in keeping with the other astromechs, and Z1 really does,” Sitzia notes. “He was fun to animate, too, with elements like the ears and legs folding in/out and the slinky body allowing for playful dips and dog-like movement while still retaining a very droid-like quality. Z1 could also stretch out long which worked so well for his fall from the table in the opening sequence and later on when he is swinging from the spacetug. His head tilt also gave him that inquisitive dog-like expression. I remember multiple pipes and tubes being ordered in a search for the perfect part to create his concertina mid-section, as making this from scratch would have been really tricky. It was quite a process to find the right thing, and Steve tells me it ended up being a motorbike shock absorber cover that with a few tweaks worked out perfectly!”

“Hitting the perfect pose in a hug in stop-motion is always a challenge and much harder than it looks. Puppets don’t usually fit together very easily. You’d never know it, but Anni’s head is actually cheated forward and is floating on a rig about 10mm forward of Kalina’s face for the last few frames of their final pose. It was the only way to get their tilted heads to look like they were making contact with each other. The rig had to be cheated in mid-shot, quite a fiddly operation.”

—Laurie Sitzia, Lead Animator and Key Stop Motion Animator

Color keys used to map out the various sequences.

Color keys used to map out the various sequences.

“We used ZBrush for modeling and Maya for modeling and animation,” Osinska remarks, “Nuke for compositing and face tracking, Houdini for rendering. And I’ve been told by Signe Tveitan, our wonderful 3D modeler, that we used Karma and Solaris to calculate how the light interacts with the surface.” Fun was had with the visual effects. “I was keen for the look of the spaceships thrusters to be quite stylized and a mixture between 2D and 3D visual effect, a little bit comic, like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” Osinska says. “[Production Designer] Aurélien Predal created very cool 2D shapes for each ship that also reflected the character of their drivers. It was an interesting challenge to then translate it into 3D, and we actually spent quite a bit of time on it to find that perfect look. The other visual effects were screens and holograms. We played with the visibility, color, lines, static, to make it work for our film and also within the Star Wars universe. Besides that, there were fireworks and lots of other atmospheres that made everything sit nicely together.” The set of city and school building were constructed entirely in 3D. “Usually, the foreground is physical, but the rest would be CG. Lighting the 3D parts played a huge role in bringing together these two techniques; this actually goes both for the sets in general but also the mouths, and our Lighting Lead, Tessa Mapp. did an amazing job on it. A big bow to our CG and VFX Supervisors, Ben Toogood and Bram Ttwheam, who married the stop-motion with CG so beautifully,” Osinska says.

The main character lineup as conceptualized by Félicie Haymoz. From left to right: Z1, Annisoukaline ‘Anni’ Kalfus, Kalina Kalfus, Dorota Van Reeple and Julan Van Reeple.

The main character lineup as conceptualized by Félicie Haymoz. From left to right: Z1, Kalina Kalfus, Annisoukaline ‘Anni’ Kalfus, Dorota Van Reeple and Julan Van Reeple.

“[Animation Director] Steve Cox developed and 3D printed the prototype for Z1 himself. As a huge Star Wars fan, he was keen to ensure that the final puppet would feel totally in keeping with the other astromechs, and Z1 really does,” Sitzia notes. “He was fun to animate, too, with elements like the ears and legs folding in/out and the slinky body allowing for playful dips and dog-like movement while still retaining a very droid-like quality.”

—Laurie Sitzia, Lead Animator and Key Stop Motion Animator

One of the visual effects that had to be produced was a hologram of Wedge Antilles in the opening shot.

One of the visual effects that had to be produced was a hologram of Wedge Antilles in the opening shot.

Appearing on screens throughout the city promoting the family pilot race and his own merchandise is Rebel Alliance X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles, actually voiced by the original live-action actor, Denis Lawson. “Anni and her mum come from a planet very very far away, from an unprivileged place, but Anni is an extremely talented pilot, the first one from her planet to be accepted to the prestigious Hanna City Flight Academy,” Osinska states. “Her mum taught her piloting skills, for example, the Ryloth Roll maneuver, which then helps Anni win the race, but Anni doesn’t value it when we meet her at the beginning of the story. Instead, naturally,  she is looking up to well-known heroes like Wedge Antilles. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Denis Lawson, and it didn’t take much convincing at all to play a slightly lighthearted and fun version of his character.” There is no shortage of Easter eggs, such as Jawa causing technological havoc in the opening. “I love the Jawa, too! They actually appear one more time in the film, at the Academy Fair by a stall selling things ‘Touched by Luke Skywalker.’ The Jawa tries to steal Luke’s lightsaber just before we see another hand [Maz Kanata] grabbing it first. We wanted to put fans’ worries to bed by solving the big mystery of how Maz Kanata took possession of Luke’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens!”

Figuring out the key poses for the Anni puppet.

Figuring out the key poses for the Anni puppet.

Figuring out the key poses for the Anni puppet.

Figuring out the key poses for the Anni puppet.

“It is really hard to choose one sequence as I loved each one of them, but if I must I’d choose the tunnel scene after Anni and Kalina crash, both the exterior and interior,” Osinska remarks. “The reason being that it was quite challenging, and there was lots of problem-solving, which is what I love about stop-motion. The tunnel we built was only four meters long, but we needed to make it feel as if it’s going for hundred of meters. DP Tristan Oliver, along with Motion Control Operator Adam Cook and Art Director Andy Brown, figured out a way of detaching the panels that are off-camera and moving them forward in front of the spaceship to achieve the feeling that it’s a very long tunnel with forks and turns. The precision of collaboration between the camera and set department was faultless!”

“I love the Jawa, too! They actually appear one more time in the film, at the Academy Fair by a stall selling things ‘Touched by Luke Skywalker.’ The Jawa tries to steal Luke’s lightsaber just before we see another hand [Maz Kanata] grabbing it first. We wanted to put fans’ worries to bed by solving the big mystery of how Maz Kanata took possession of Luke’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens!”

—Magdalena Osinska, Director

There is no shortage of Easter eggs that can be found in each frame. If you look closely enough, you will see Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.

There is no shortage of Easter eggs that can be found in each frame. If you look closely enough, you will see Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.

Click here to watch a Lucasfilm Ltd. featurette on the making of Star Wars: Visions Volume 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lHQA9yvJSI



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