Back in September, Star Wars introduced its megamillion-dollar line of Rogue One toys with four stop-motion videos directed by Tucker Barrie and Dan MacKenzie, who worked on Charlie Kaufman's Academy Award-nominated film Anomalisa.
The campaign ran on the Star Wars YouTube channel and was a collaboration between Disney's Lucasfilm and creative network Tongal. It also kicked off a global competition that asked fans to share their "rogue stories" and win a trip to Rogue One's December premiere at the Presidio in San Francisco. (You can see the winners of that contest here.)
AdFreak caught up with Barrie to ask him about the making of the videos. See the videos here, and scroll below for our Q&A:
AdFreak: What's this about the first chapter premiering in Time's Square?
Tucker Barrie: Crazy, right?! Chapter 1 played all day in Times Square—after being featured on Good Morning America—on the Disney Store screen. It was pretty surreal, and definitely one of the highlights of the project.
So how did you guys get brought into the project?
We were first approached by Tongal, the agency involved, a few months ago to submit a pitch for a secret Star Wars project. We weren't given much information about it at the time. They had reached out to about a dozen other stop-motion animators across the country, but we must have impressed them with our little video. It wasn't long before we found ourselves in meetings with the Disney and Lucasfilm teams.
I'm sure they approached you because of your previous work. What tipped them off?
Outside of this project, Dan MacKenzie and I both animate on a wonderful Amazon Original series called Tumble Leaf. It's very charming, and a guaranteed hit with the little ones. Dan has also animated on Laika's most recent films—ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings. All are very impressive showcases of stop-motion animation. And I recently did a piece for Nickelodeon's 25th anniversary of their animated shows.
Awesome. So for this project, how'd you come up with the story?
James DeJulio and Lesley Worton from the Tongal team came up with the broad strokes of the story before Dan and I came aboard. The scripts were further developed by Kevin Ulrich, who was brought on as the writer, and there was a lot of back and forth from there about what we could accomplish during production.
Speaking of production limits, stop motion is notoriously labor intensive. How long did the animation process take?
The first three chapters were shot in about 12 weeks. On a good day, we would accomplish about 10 seconds of animation. However, we found that animation wasn't the most time-consuming process. At the end of the day, it was the time in between shots that ended up being the most labor intensive. From the start, we knew we wanted the production design to feel realistic, as if we were setting these action figures in a world that we would have come up with in our imaginations as kids. Our sets ended up being very intricate, and it took a lot of time and effort to build everything from scratch, light it and establish our framing and blocking.
Where did you set up all the intricate sets?
We set up our studio in the house designed and lived in by Fred Joerger, a Disney Imagineer who started working with Walt in the '50s. He specialized in miniatures, which seemed very appropriate for what we were doing. It's a beautiful, bizarre home that features paintings and sculptures by many iconic Disney artists. We like to think that helped to channel some good vibes into our Disney work.
Once we figured out how much work was involved in making the series, we ended up living there for most of the production. We were also told that an episode of Ghost Hunters was filmed there, but unfortunately we never had any spooky encounters. Would have been a great story.
What sort of restrictions or requirements did they give you in coming up with the story?
Generally, we had to stay true to how the Star Wars universe functions. Besides that, we needed to maintain the more gritty theme of Star Wars: Rogue One—that meant no Jedi, lightsabers or use of the Force. There were also a few times when we would submit a version of a script and we would need to make changes because moments we had written were too close to that of the real film. We were only given the broad strokes of the movie, so it was kind of fun to try to piece together the real story beats based on what we were required to change.
You seemed to have a lot of fun with the tiny Lego Stormtroopers. What made them such great characters?
They were a lot of fun, and we're very happy with how they evolved from the beginning of the project. Originally, we had planned to voice them ourselves as a little cameo appearance. However, during our first voice recording session, we let one of our actors, Ian Sinclair, give it shot to have something as back up. We immediately came to the bittersweet realization that he was much better suited for the role than Dan or me. Amping up their comedic personalities came naturally after that.
I'm kind of in love with them. What's your favorite toy from the lineup?
Our primary Jyn action figure was pretty great to work with. She made animating easy, and was just a badass figure to boot. K2SO was great too; I'm sure he's going to be a fan favorite. It's hard to go wrong with droids in Star Wars.
One last, nerdy question: How'd you guys make the eyes move?
They never actually move; it's animation magic! Clay was stuck on their eyes for a few frames at a time to make them blink. That trick helped give them some life they were otherwise lacking.